U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is at odds with President George W. Bush’s veto of legislation reauthorizing the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
“I disagree with it. I think the children’s health insurance bill is good for Tennessee — 127,000 Tennessee children need it,” Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said of the veto during a stop this week in Piney Flats.
Bush, in a release posted on the White House Web site (www.whitehouse.gov), said he vetoed Congressional approval of the SCHIP bill because it would shift the program away from its original purpose of covering needy families and cover children from some families of four earning almost $83,000 a year. He added that increased government health care coverage would displace private health insurance for many children.
The bill also called for tobacco tax increases. Another $35 billion in new dollars would have gone into the $35 billion program over a five-year period, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Alexander voted for the bill, as did fellow Tennessee Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.
In a joint release, Alexander and Corker said SCHIP reauthorization would boost Tennessee’s efforts to provide coverage for the state’s neediest children and help compensate Tennessee hospitals that treat a large number of patients who are unable to pay their bills.
“The (SCHIP) bill itself gets the adults out of the program which is one of the problems,” Alexander said. “The (Bush) administration is guilty of allowing a number of adults to come into the program so we want a bill that focuses only on poor children. The bill the Senate passed is the right bill.”
In a separate health care issue, Alexander gave Corker credit for recent federal approval of TennCare’s waiver renewal application for a three-year period. About 1.2 million Tennesseans rely on TennCare, the state’s expanded Medicaid program, for their health care coverage.
TennCare’s current waiver expired on June 30, and has been operating under a series of extensions. The state had requested a five-year waiver. TennCare requires approval from the federal government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in order to receive matching federal dollars amounting to 64 percent of the program’s funding.
Corker’s experience as a past state finance commissioner made the difference in getting the new waiver, Alexander said.
In the past three years, TennCare has paid more than $1.7 billion to hospitals to assist with uncompensated care costs, according to Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration. The new waiver contains $270 million less than needed to cover growing costs and places a cap on supplemental payments to hospitals.
State officials indicated the cap will make it difficult to open TennCare to new enrollees.
“It’s a lot better than what could have happened,” Alexander said of the waiver. “We were headed toward an end of that sort of support for uncompensated health care and we got a result the state can live with.”