Senator John ThuneIn a country as affluent as America, no child should go without health care because their parents can't afford health insurance. In 1997, as a member of the House of Representatives, I supported the creation of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, commonly known as SCHIP.
The program currently provides block grants to states to cover low-income children who are uninsured, but whose families have incomes that are too high to qualify for Medicaid. In other words, SCHIP was designed as an extra safety net to catch children who were slipping through the cracks and not receiving basic health coverage.
Because the program is about to expire, the Senate will soon begin debating the reauthorization of the SCHIP program and I once again will support SCHIP coverage for the children who need it most. As originally envisioned, this program should continue to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities.
As we reauthorize this important program, Congress will have several differing approaches to take. I support an approach that covers children whose parents cannot afford private health insurance. This is a responsible approach that directs program money to those children who need it, without irresponsibly increasing the burden on American taxpayers.
In contrast, a more expensive proposal has several troubling provisions that go beyond the original intent of the SCHIP program. There are some in Congress who would like to expand the program to cover children whose families can afford health insurance. To expand this program from covering needy children to covering children from families making up to $82,000 (for a family of four) in states like New York or New Jersey, would be nothing more than moving American families into government run, socialized medicine.
The SCHIP program currently allows coverage of expectant mothers and I support continuing this coverage. But shockingly there are some states that have been using SCHIP funds to pay for health insurance for adults. This is not only an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars, but has reduced funding available to pay for children - the very reason the program was created.
The State of South Dakota estimates that approximately 5,000 children, or 2.6% of children in South Dakota are uninsured. It is crucial that we get these kids covered without moving the country toward a one-size fits all, government-run health care system as some of my colleagues have suggested.
I firmly believe that rather than having our health care decisions dictated to us by government bureaucrats, families should be in charge of their health care decisions. One way we can achieve this through the SCHIP program is to increase options for states to help qualifying families purchase their own private health insurance and allow small businesses to pool together to buy more affordable health insurance.
I look forward to a debate about the larger issue of how to cover the growing numbers of uninsured and whether Americans are interested in government-run, taxpayer supported, socialized health care. Going forward, I will continue to support sustainable health care reforms that allow more individuals to take ownership of their healthcare, create more competition in the market place and help provide affordable, high-quality care for all South Dakotans.