Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Healthy Discussion

Rep. Mike Simpson falls somewhere between disingenuous and downright deceitful in his representation of the house bill to re-authorize the State's Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Aren't you tired of the bogeyman tactics; leaders are supposed to assuage fears not create or exacerbate them. Simpson goes for the double-whammy of scripted Republican scare tactics that have somehow become the norm in this country. He raises the dual specters of illegal aliens and socialized medicine to elicit knee-jerk reactions that work to his liking, rather than rational examinations which might bolster public opinion [even among Republican respondents1] on universal health care which, as indicated in nationwide polls2, is contrary to Mr. Simpson's position.

I call bullshit. As a citizen of Idaho and the U.S. - it's my job. It's our job. We don't get paid for it and it sure would be nice if there was a journalist, perhaps a political columnist, who got paid to keep tabs on these things for us but we clearly can't count on it. [I still have not been able to fathom how that man receives a paycheck for his worthless drivel - nice gig]

Back to Mr. Simpson. First he claims that this new bill "radically expands coverage to virtually anybody__including illegal aliens." Are you mad yet?[you're supposed to be]

Well, let's examine the actual bill, shall we?

No one, myself included, is going to wade through a 502-page document but let's just check out the highlights. Under the heading Subtitle D:Populations (as in, you know, populations of people that would be covered under the new bill) what do we find?

Here's a snapshot:

First, Sec. 131. Optional coverage of children up to age 21 under CHIP. [optional because what Mr. Simpson fails to inform you of is, as always was the case, the states determine eligibility - this does represent an increase if the state chooses to add this benefit because the original legislation covered individuals to age 19]

Second, Sec. 132. Optional coverage of legal immigrants under the Medicaid program and CHIP. [So, Rep. Simpson may not be disingenuous maybe he's merely illiterate]

Section 133 is immaterial to the discussion here and Section 134 I'll get back to in a minute.

Third, Sec. 135. No Federal [sic] funding for illegal aliens.[hard to miss that one - what do ya' say, Mikey?]

Fourth, Sec. 136. Auditing requirement to enforce citizenships restrictions on eligibility for Medicaid and CHIP benefits.

Admittedly, I'm not a lawyer but that seems to indicate there are eligibility restrictions based on citizenship and there's going to be some requirement [i.e., accountability - a term unfamiliar to the modern day Republican] to have audits to ensure no unnecessary funds are distributed. Sure enough, on page 68 we find the audits are necessary:
in order to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Secretary that Federal funds under this title or title XXI are not unlawfully spent for benefits for individuals who are not legal residents.

Now I don't know who else might be contained in Mr. Simpson's "virtually anybody" that this bill purportedly was expanded to cover but it, apparently, does not include illegal aliens.

I'll skip over his other inflammatory language about increasing border security instead of spending billions of dollars on benefits to these illegal aliens that, well, they're not actually going to receive because, frankly, there's only so much time. As I said, I don't get paid for this and there's only so much one can review in a couple of hours on a Sunday evening and there are a few other issues I'd like to address.

Next, he's aghast that adults will be covered. Well actually, more adults, as adults have already been covered. In various keyword searches of the bill I didn't find anything about eligibility requirements (for adults) let alone changes in those requirements. I suspect the reason is, as previously mentioned, the states (even in the original bill) were given great latitude in defining those parameters of the program.

Everything I read in this document indicates that federal expenditures are based on state population data of children under the age of 19. This is where (I think) section 134 may be relevant, which states, briefly, that states cannot exercise waivers to cover individuals other than low-income children or pregnant women unless, basically, the state can demonstrate that all the eligible children in the state are already covered (p. 67).

This would appear to be an added restriction on waivers that states have already been able to apply for under the initial legislation. Doesn't sound like expansion to me but if it is, it's exercised at the state level. So, if he wants to take issue with the states or address the loophole that was apparently in the original bill, then by all means ...

Next he plays with numbers, using the most egregious example of children from a family making over $82,000 a year being eligible. Are you outraged? [you're supposed to be] Is it true?

Again, in the actual bill (on p 67 -where is defines all the things that must happen before a state can allow for individual other than children or pregnant women to be covered) it refers to:
... targeted low-income children in families with incomes less than 200 percent of the poverty line.
Given the federal poverty guidelines (for the 48 contiguous states and DC) list an income for a family of 8 as $34,570 with $3,480 added for each additional child, Mr. Simpson's example would represent a family with 9.9 children making his $82,000.

I think we can all agree that wouldn't represent either the norm or a wealthy family as he intimates.

Granted some state programs kick in at other levels. For example, in Maryland families are eligible up to 400% poverty. However, families in the 200-400% range must pay a premium to participate in the program.

To suggest that Mr. Simpson's example is a little misleading would be a gross understatement. [link for data]

Finally, well as far as what I'm going to touch on tonight anyway, he talks about the Democratic bill being "devious" and "underhanded" with a "stealth provision" to ... [yes, you guessed it, I was wrong it wasn't a dual specter but a full on triple threat] raise taxes. [You'd think the Republicans could at least come up with a new meme]

The taxes would consist of a 45 cent cigarette tax [do we really need to go over the topic of the health care expense smoker's represent again?] and a $2 per person [that's annually] health insurance tax to fund research into cost-effective medical treatments.[now that's seriously scary; link to data].

Rep. Simpson states:
"If Democrats want to implement a national healthcare system, then Congress should have that debate, openly and publicly. "
If this hit piece is any indication of his idea of an honest and open debate, you can expect this won't be the last time I'll be calling out -bullshit, Mr. Simpson.

It's sad when we can't take our elected officials at their word and, unfortunately, it's not a new phenomenon. Ask yourself about possible other motivations the politician/candidate may have for a given position. Frankly, I was surprised to learn that 70% of Mr. Simpson's campaign contributions last election cycle came from Political Action Committees (PACs; interest groups) with the healthcare sector being his second largest donor.

Here's another clue, if the rhetoric appears designed to evoke emotion rather than thought and they don't provide any data to back up their assertions - call them on it. I intend to.

Perhaps a new campaign slogan is in order for Mr. Simpson:
Simpson for Congress '08: More Hyberbole, Less Fact

Kind of catchy don't you think?

1In a poll conducted by GOP consultant, Tony Fabrizio, 51% of the Republicans responded that universal healthcare coverage should be the right of every American.

2In a NYTs/CBS poll form February of this year 64% thought the federal government should guarantee health care insurance for all Americans; only 27% thought it wasn't the role of the federal government [tantalizingly close to the percentage of Bush support].

For more information on SCHIP go here.

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