America's Children's Health Insurance Program is set to expire on September 30. The Senate Finance Committee has been hammering out the details of a bipartisan plan to extend the program and to fund increased spending by hiking the federal cigarette tax (from 39¢ to $1 a pack). There are currently about 8 million uninsured kids, and the increased spending would cut that total by 4.1 million children.
"Wow!" you say. "That sounds great! Because uninsured kids suffer, and some even die because their families can't afford health care. And raising cigarette taxes always seems to be a politically safe means of raising tax revenue."
The White House says Bush will veto any such proposal. Why? White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, "The proposal would dramatically expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program, adding nonpoor children to the program, and more than doubling the level of spending. This will have the effect of encouraging many to drop private coverage, to go on the government-subsidized program." Also, the proposal doesn't pander to President Bush, who wants to set up tax breaks for people buying insurance—as if the average poor family could afford to buy health insurance if only they knew they'd get a fraction of the money back the following April. (Of course, the electric company and the grocery store aren't going to wait until next April to get paid, so really, Bush's concept is strikingly unhelpful for the poor.
One of my son's friends is on our state's health plan for kids. (Gov. Blagojevich may be incredibly corrupt, but he supported this program so he's not all bad.) This boy has asthma and needs pricey brand-name medications to keep his airways open. The state program provides his life-saving drugs and he rarely misses school (he's in the gifted program, where they move fast) because of his asthma. His mother simply doesn't have the money to pay for these prescriptions out of pocket, and I imagine private insurance programs would also be out of reach. Since he's covered by Illinois's universal children's health insurance, he won't end up as another tragic story like Deamonte Driver's.
I think Bush also eats kittens.