Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Tuesday, August 28

Spitzer Threatens S-CHIP Lawsuit; Can Dann Be Far Behind?

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

During his campaign for attorney general, Marc Dann (D-Liberty Township) sometimes mentioned crusading state attorney general (and now governor) Eliot Spitzer (D-NY) as a personal inspiration. Yesterday, Spitzer threatened to sue the federal government over new regulatory restrictions on the S-CHIP program, which provides Medicaid coverage to children of lower-income working families). The lawsuit would contend that the regulatory changes are void as fatally inconsistent with the controlling statute.

I have written about the new S-CHIP regulations here. The regulatory changes, issued by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on August 17th, impose virtually impossible preconditions on states that wish to raise the income limitation on families eligible for S-CHIP above 250% of the federal poverty level. The recently passed Ohio budget contains a plan to raise the eligibility to 300%. Other states are considering plans to raise the limit to 350% or even 400%.

Reaction to the changes has been swift and harsh. Gene Sperling wrote in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
What is most inexcusable about the White House stance is what they don't say. They offer nothing -- no better idea, no alternative, no plan -- that has been shown to keep even a chunk of these 5 million to 6 million children from going to sleep every night without health insurance.

They are content to keep the status quo even with heartbreaking reports that uninsured infants with congenital heart problems are 10 times more likely to die because of delayed treatment than those with coverage.

Before, "compassionate conservatism" may have seemed like a political bumper sticker. Now it seems like the punch line of a sad joke, at the expense of millions of impoverished children.
Amy Swanson, Executive Director of Voices for Ohio's Children, wrote to me in an e-mail message last week:
[The CMS letter is] yet another example in the SCHIP debate that the White House is out of touch with America. Ohio passed a bipartisan child health expansion, and these decisions should be left to states and not to the whims of partisan politics in Washington. ...

The requirements create nearly impossible hurdles for states to overcome. ...

With passage of recent legislation [i.e., the SCHIP extension bills passed by both chambers of Congress], it is clear that Congress does not agree with the administration’s policies for SCHIP. ...

This policy restricts state flexibility – a cornerstone of the program – sets a bad precedent – what else with the administration due to undermine the current program for our children—many of these children we are talking about have lost access to employer coverage because of chronic care needs or worse, they never had access to the employer coverage. Middle-income families are being priced out of the private market due to escalating health care costs.
Last week, Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) joined in a strong protest letter to the Bush Administration, which includes the assertion that the changes "contravene the fundamental objectives underlying SCHIP and may overstep your Department's authority." That wording suggests that Ohio's new leadership concurs with Spitzer's assessment about the validity of the changes. Something tells me that Marc Dann might be working on draft pleadings for Ohio's SCHIP lawsuit at this very moment.

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