Springfield Journal Register

Published Saturday, February 17, 2007

LaHood, Emanuel push for expanded insurance program

Legislation would give more children health coverage

WASHINGTON - In a bipartisan spirit not often seen on Capitol Hill, Reps. Rahm Emanuel, a Chicago Democrat, and Ray LaHood, a Peoria Republican, have joined forces to help states, including Illinois, provide health-care coverage to more uninsured children of working-poor families.

LaHood and Emanuel are part of a bipartisan campaign to reauthorize and substantially expand a federal program called State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP. The program will expire Sept. 30 if Congress doesn't reauthorize it. The group is seeking $60 billion over five years for the program.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., will sponsor a similar bill in the Senate, Emanuel said.

The federal program sends between $225 million and $321 million a year to Illinois for the state's "All Kids" program, allowing about 156,300 low-income children and 125,655 parents to be covered. The program is aimed at helping children whose working parents make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but who can't afford to purchase health insurance on their own.

Emanuel and Durbin introduced similar bills last year when Republicans controlled Congress. But the legislation stands a greater chance this year, with Durbin as Senate majority whip and Emanuel as House Democratic Caucus chairman.

"Elections make a difference. I doubt if we (Republicans) were the majority party that we would be standing up here today," LaHood said at a Capitol Hill press conference that the sponsors held Friday.

The presidential campaign is drawing more attention to the issue.

After Iraq, LaHood said, "the single most important issue that presidential candidates talk about is health care."

LaHood said his daughter and son-in-law, both doctors at a medical clinic in Indianapolis serving a large Hispanic population, see the need for an expansion of the program.

"I'm going to be proud to call her today," he said.

In his fiscal 2008 budget request to Congress, President Bush proposed a $5 billion increase over five years, but critics have said that would not pay for those currently enrolled.

Emanuel's plan to provide $60 billion over five years would cover the estimated 6.8 million children who are eligible but not enrolled in SCHIP or Medicaid. The $60 billion includes $10 billion to provide a new tax credit that low-income working families, who don't qualify for the program, can use to buy health insurance through an employer-sponsored plan or a state plan such as SCHIP. The tax credit is aimed at providing insurance for an additional 2.2 million children.

The bill also would give states a financial incentive to streamline their enrollment process. For example, the bill requires, among other things, that children who have qualified for other means-tested programs such as food stamps or school lunches would automatically be considered eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP.

Emanuel said the plan would be paid for by reducing the capital gains "tax gap" that taxpayers owe the government but don't pay. The bill's supporters back another bipartisan bill that would require increased reporting of capital gains by the securities industry.

For Emanuel, the bill is an extension of his prior work at the Clinton White House, where he helped negotiate a deal with the Republican Congress that created SCHIPs in 1997.

The bill also has the backing of a wide range of groups including America's Health Insurance Plans, the American Medical Association, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Families USA, a health care advocacy group.


Dori Meinert can be reached at 202-737-7686 or dori.meinert@copleydc.com.