Friday, August 10, 2007

Denny Rehberg weighs in on CHIP

While Montana Headlines wouldn't have given up the opportunity to critique a Gazette editorial, we are glad that Rep. Denny Rehberg took the time to answer directly many of the things that have been flying around regarding his opposition to the House version of CHIP expansion and to some aspects of the Senate bill.

He doesn't go along with the Democratic narrative, best expressed by the Gazette editors earlier this week when they said that those who support the more expansive versions of CHIP/SCHIP legislation are "recognizing the value of caring for children." By implication, those who have a different opinion don't "recognize the value of caring for children." One is amazed at how clearly they are able to peer into our dark little conservative hearts.

No, Rehberg goes on to mention a few (if we may say so) inconvenient truths:

1. CHIP was started in 1997 -- Rehberg is perhaps too modest to make the point (so we'll do it for him) that this legislation was first passed when Republicans controlled Congress. Oops. Those evil child-hating Republicans.

2. 19,000 currently eligible children aren't enrolled in CHIP in Montana. The implication here is that if funding is going to be increased (and Montana Headlines has never said anything but that it should be if we can afford it and if it is done in a way that doesn't undermine private insurance,) then the emphasis should be on getting currently eligible children enrolled first -- something that would, of course, use up much of the increased funding. It's only common sense that the priority should be on children in the lowest income families.

3. The bill won't cap income eligibility, but leaves it up to the states. Aren't conservatives in favor of individual states making their own rules? Well yes, if one state's increased spending is being paid for by it's own state tax dollars.

What happens if states dramatically raise the income limitations (which are indexed for poverty levels on a state-by-state basis) is that states with high cutoffs do two things: first, they directly compete with affordable private insurance plans -- competition being underwritten by the limitless deep pockets of the federal government. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that the market won't develop lower cost insurance plans. Second, they shift money to themselves from states that choose more reasonable levels:

In fact, in some cases under the new proposal, a family of four with an earned income of $100,000 a year would qualify for CHIP whether they can afford private health insurance or not. In the end, fiscally responsible states like Montana will be left paying for health insurance for East Coast families earning triple the average Montanan.

4. As we have constantly reminded readers, this proposed legislation includes many adults -- including adults with no children. Rehberg echoes what we have said before:

If we want to provide additional health insurance for low-income adults, let's address that at a separate time. The “C” in CHIP is for “children.”

So, reminding the Gazette editors of their own words earlier this week, let's do this one "for the sake of the children," and have straight-up separate debates on uninsured adults later.

5. The bill as proposed "repeals a longstanding provision banning benefits from going to non-U.S. citizens."

Again, this takes the focus off America's kids.

Ouch. Democrats didn't realize they were doing that, did they? We really ought to keep this on our kids. For the sake of the children, of course.

Rehberg has taken a lot of guff from Democrats and the Montana press for his comments about the "extremist ideology" behind the House bill. This comment has been portrayed as meaning that taking care of poor children is an extremist ideology. Those who peddle such tripe know good and well that they are being disingenuous (to put it kindly.)

But there is indeed an ideology at work. Take anyone who has both had private insurance and also been in government-provided health-care systems, such as the military or the VA, and ask them to compare the quality of service they got under a government bureaucratic system to what they got under their private health insurance, and the answer is generally pretty clear: give them their private insurance.

Everyone likes the idea of getting free health-care -- but not everyone understands the implications of how that exactly works out. Those who do understand, are far more circumspect in their opinions. This is not to say that there aren't bad health insurance plans and that there aren't cracks that people fall through.

But the ideology that Rehberg is talking about is one that maintains that private insurance should be done away with, replaced with a single-payer Canadian-style system or a government-run VA-style system. For most Americans, that would be an unacceptable extremist ideology.

Do most Americans want to make sure that those who currently fall through the cracks are covered? Of course -- we are a compassionate people, overwhelmingly, no matter where on the political spectrum we fall. Do most Americans want to pay less for health care? Of course -- we as a people want to buy low and sell high. That's just part of the American way, and indeed the human way.

But as Rehberg points out, there are those who take these compassionate and thrifty desires of a majority of Americans and portray them as saying something very different:

As the Democrats continue to expand the program to those who don't need it, they are pushing forward an agenda of eliminating affordable, reliable health insurance from private providers and shifting to an inefficient, costly, government-run health-care plan.

Knowing they can't win this debate in the sunlight of public scrutiny, House Democrats are resorting to sabotaging a children's health program in order to play ideological games.

Is Rehberg open to voting for a bill more like that proposed in the Senate? Well, listening to those who believe that Rehberg thinks that providing CHIP coverage to low-income children, you'd think that the answer was a resounding "no." Indeed, if their portrayal of him was true, they'd be right -- but there's the problem, isn't it? Let's hear what Rehberg himself has to say:

The Senate approach, while not perfect, is a much more common sense plan for CHIP reauthorization. The Senate bill prohibits childless adults from enrolling and phases out current enrollees by 2008. Additionally, it prohibits CHIP funds from going to non-U.S. citizens. This bill includes these and other common sense provisions that the Democrats in the House have failed to address.

But as was pointed out in the Montana Headlines commentary yesterday, even the Senate legislation needs to be seen as a starting point. House Republicans have their own alternative legislation -- they are no strangers to funding CHIP -- after all, they were the ones who first started the program. Rehberg supports the alternative House provisions:

Ultimately, I support the House alternative CHIP legislation. This measure stops the out-of-control spending increases included in the Democrats' bill, puts financial caps on income eligibility, and addresses many of the same issues as the Senate bill - further proof there are fiscally responsible proposals available that will provide for America's neediest children.

Somehow we suspect -- much to the chagrin of Democrats and the Gazette editors alike -- that even this evil Republican House legislation would, if passed, cover all of the children currently provided for under CHIP, and many, many more besides.

There is room for disagreement on the details of how CHIP should be funded and run. Montana Headlines and Rehberg wouldn't necessarily agree on all the details -- nor would he expect all conservative Republicans to be in lockstep agreement.

One thing that everyone agrees on is that poor children shouldn't go without health care, and that having the federal government support CHIP is a good idea. Democrats know that Republicans believe this no less than do they, but it isn't good politics to admit to virtues in one's opponents, so they don't.

It's all of the other stuff being thrown into this legislation that is causing the problems, and those who would obfuscate the facts and demagogue the issue for political gain (masquerading as "the sake of the children") are just not being honest or fair.

In fact, they are being a bit extremist.

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