In an Ohio campaign appearance with actor Rob Reiner, Vice President
Al Gore unveiled a plan to expand a federal health insurance program for
children by $42 billion or $42,000 per child.
The proposal is to increase funding of the
State Children’s Health
Insurance Program or SCHIP, a 5-year, $24 billion effort to provide government health insurance coverage to children in families making less than 200 percent of the poverty level and who don’t qualify for Medicaid.
According to documents obtained from Gore’s campaign, the new SCHIP plan is to expand the program by $42 billion, yet the program will only cover an additional 1 million of the 11 million children without health insurance — leaving millions more without any coverage.
The Gore plan was quickly panned by Grace-Marie Arnett, president of the Washington, D.C.-based
Galen Institute, a not-for-profit research and education organization that focuses on free-market health-care reforms.
“What are these people thinking?” Arnett asked incredulously. “Did anyone in their campaign run the numbers on this proposal? At $42,000 per child, anyone could go out in the private market and buy private insurance for these children without all the bureaucrats with their hands out in between.”
Arnett advocates restructuring of the SCHIP program to allow the money to flow to parents through tax credits and insurance vouchers and allowing states greater flexibility in setting up their SCHIP programs without expanding their current Medicaid systems, the policy favored by the Clinton administration.
“Expanding SCHIP is virtually useless unless you change the whole structure of the program and stop forcing states to expand Medicaid,” Arnett says. “That would free the states up to innovate and work with the private sector to come up with alternatives without giving the federal government control of your children’s health care.”
While the SCHIP program has been heralded as one of the
achievements of the Clinton administration, the success of the program has been called into question.
When Congress authorized the program as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, the Clinton administration expected to enroll 5 million children before the end of this year. But Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala has admitted that only 2.6 million will be enrolled by September.
The SCHIP program has also failed to stem the tide of the uninsured in America. Under the Clinton administration, more than 8 million people have lost their insurance, including 2.4 million children. In fact, the SCHIP program may be one of the contributing causes of the growing ranks of uninsured children.
Gore has used the uninsured children issue to attack Gov. George W. Bush after Texas failed to set aside $450 million for the state during 1998 as part of the SCHIP program. But as
reported, more than 32 states were not able to spend any of their 1998 SCHIP allotments because of stringent regulations attached to the money and the lengthy delays the Clinton administration experienced in approving many states’ SCHIP plans.
Because of the difficulties that states have had in navigating the Clinton administration’s SCHIP maze, 41 states are scheduled next month to lose more than $1.9 billion designated for their 1998 SCHIP allotments due to their inability to get their programs up and running in time to take advantage of the federal funds.
WorldNetDaily also reported last month that a recent
study by researchers at the Center for Studying Health System Change found that SCHIP has resulted in millions of low-income children being forced off their private insurance coverage as employers look to shift health insurance costs to taxpayers. Thus, Gore may be advocating expanding a program that has exacerbated the very problem it was intended to solve.
Another issue that Gore has used to attack Bush is Social Security. But Michael Tanner, a Social Security expert at the
Institute, says that trying to address Gore on the issue is like hitting a moving target.
“Al Gore has constantly reinvented himself on Social Security,” said Tanner. “For a time there was the ‘What, me worry?’ Al, who disputed the very need for Social Security reform. Then there was Anti-investment Al, who denounced Bush’s reform proposals as a ‘risky scheme,’ ‘casino economics’ and ‘Wall Street roulette.’ But now he’s ‘Al Gore, Man with a Plan,’ but neither of the two proposals actually fixes the problem.”
The two proposals currently advocated by Gore involve paying down the national debt and attributing the interest savings towards the Social Security Trust Fund, and creating incentives to encourage low-income workers to save on their own by using government money to match workers’ contributions.
Tanner noted that the
Congressional Budget Office evaluated both proposals when they were put forward by President Clinton last year and concluded that the plans had no merit. CBO Director Dan L. Crippen has derided Gore’s plan, saying that it just defers costs to future generations.
“Merely changing the bookkeeping for the Social Security trust funds may only make us feel better at the expense of our kids,” he told the Washington Post in an interview last May.
testimony before Congress last November, Crippen said that using the interest savings from the national debt would be a placebo for real Social Security reform.
“Adding to the trust fund balances does nothing to ensure that the necessary economic resources will be there to support the programs; it simply shifts money from one government pocket to another. In fact, by relieving the most visible symptom of the program’s fiscal distress, additional transfers from the general fund may lull the nation into overlooking the fund’s less obvious problems. … Plans that shift funds from one government pocket to another do nothing to address those programs’ actual financing problem … and in fact could postpone corrective action.”
The General Accounting Office, the auditing arm of Congress, also examined the proposals last year and was equally dismissive.
Testifying before a congressional committee last year, Comptroller of the United States David M. Walker said that the interest savings proposal “does not represent a Social Security reform plan and does not come close to ‘saving Social Security.'”
“I don’t think that Gore has any real plan to address Social Security’s problems at the moment,” Tanner said. “He’s ducking the need to do something about shoring up the program’s finances and increase returns for workers. That’s what the debate should be about.”
Both Arnett and Tanner told WorldNetDaily that the presidential campaigns should demonstrate marked public policy differences between the candidates.
“At the end of the day, under Gore’s plan, the federal government is still going to have to increase taxes to cover the shortfalls and increase the retirement age. There’s no way to get around the fact that his plan does nothing for Social Security.” Tanner said.
Due to the Democratic National Convention being held in Los Angeles this week, staff in the Gore 2000 Nashville, Tenn., campaign headquarters told WorldNetDaily that none of Gore’s spokespeople were available to comment for this article.
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