Renew health insurance to Florida’s poor kids? It’s on the back burner

Dec 05, 2017
Frank Cerabino

There are 342,000 Florida children who are waiting for their turn.

It hasn’t happened yet.

A 20-year-old national program called the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), quietly expired in September, leaving children of the working poor in limbo.

The program is run jointly by the federal government and the states, with the federal government providing most of the financial support.

Because of it, about 8.9 million children nationwide, from birth to 18 years old, have had medical coverage for doctor visits, medication, immunizations, surgery, dental care, vision and hearing, mental health services, checkups, and emergency care.

In our state, the program is administered as Florida KidCare, and it cost a total of $648 million last year, with the federal share being $616 million, or about 95 percent of the total cost in Florida.

To be eligible, families have to make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but no more than 208 percent of the federal poverty level for free insurance or 314 percent above the federal poverty level for partially subsidized insurance.

It has been a pretty successful program. Here’s U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, talking about it recently on the Senate floor.

“I happen to think CHIP has done a terrific job for people who really needed the help,” Hatch said. “I believe in helping those who cannot help themselves but would if they could.”

Hatch wrote the original CHIP legislation with now-deceased Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy. So why have Hatch and other Republican lawmakers let the program’s funding lapse, a move that would end health insurance for those 340,000 Florida kids next month?

“We’re going to do CHIP, there’s no question about it in my mind,” Hatch said. “It has to be done the right way. But we, the reason CHIP is having trouble is because we don’t have money anymore.”

Say what? You don’t have the money anymore?

I think I know where it went. To already profitable corporations who will use it to buy back stock and reward their top executives. The owners of private jets, who are getting a new tax break, and to pass-through companies like the Trump Organization who will have a brand new way to avoid taxes.

If you’re a lawmaker racing the clock to give away $1.5 trillion in future revenues — with about half it going to the top 1 percent of wage earners — you shouldn’t be able to concurrently complain about being too broke to help the poor, and especially their children.

CHIP isn’t really that expensive, either. It costs about as much as the revenue raised by the estate tax, a tax that has existed on the richest inheritances — about 1 in every 700 estates.

Getting rid of the estate tax costs about $19.7 billion a year. That’s more than the $15.6 billion in total contributions from federal and state governments it took last year to offer insurance to 8.9 million poor children through CHIP.

Leave the estate tax as it is, and suddenly, you’re not too broke anymore.

But the bigger concern seems to be in serving the top 0.2 percent of estates from taxation. U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley told The Des Moines Register that taxing the richest estates just punishes the people who didn’t fritter away their money.

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies,” Grassley said.

So the government’s broke now, which means now CHIP must be done “the right way,” as Sen. Hatch cryptically put it.

What does that mean?

In preliminary meetings, Republicans are balking at funding the insurance program for poor kids unless it’s paid for by a cut in another so-called entitlement program. One proposal is to make Medicare insurance premiums higher for some seniors.

So that’s why 342,000 Florida kids are on the brink of losing health insurance.

Because the government that’s handing over a fortune to the already rich now wants to raid the insurance program for the old to pay for the insurance program for the young.