Lawmakers Debate Children's Health Insurance Program

You would think that re-authorizing a health plan to help uninsured children would be an easy sell in Congress. But the debate is ongoing on exactly who should be covered under the State Children's Health Insurance Program or S-CHIP. And Mississippi Senator Trent Lott is in the middle of it. Jon Kalahar has more.

Oleta Fitzgerald is the Southern Regional Director for the Children's Defense Fund. She's watched the debate from the Senate floor all day because, she says, the well being of millions of children hangs in the balance.

"The real issue here is children. There are nine million uninsured children in this country," Fitzgerald said.

Of those children, 100,000 live in Mississippi. Fitzgerald says even if CHIP is reauthorized, it still doesn't cover every child who needs health care.

"We do have children who are suffering. We do have children who are dying."

The Children's Defense Fund hopes to increase the number of children and families covered by CHIP. Other states have already taken similar action. Fitzgerald says that by increasing the total family income under CHIP, Mississippi could get every eligible child health insurance.

Senator Trent Lott is among those in the Senate who want to limit CHIP enrollment to low income families, which was the original intent of the program.

Under Lott's amendment named "Kids First," those eligible for CHIP would be capped at 200 percent above poverty. That's a 33 percent expansion of the plan's funding.

Democrats are currently backing a tobacco tax increase to fund their plan for CHIP. Lott's proposal would need no tax increase.

Lott says he believes the proposal by Democrats will lead to a government run health care system.

The Children's Health Insurance Program is expected to be reauthorized, in some form, later this week.

by Jon Kalahar