This vote was on an amendment by Pat Roberts, R-Kan., that would have prohibited states from covering children under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) if their gross family incomes are above $65,000 or at the median state income, whichever is lower. It also would have prohibited states from covering children under Medicaid if their family income is at a level above the income eligibility for SCHIP. The amendment was offered to a bill that expands and reauthorizes SCHIP, which offers health insurance for children of families who are too poor to purchase private health insurance, but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.
Roberts said Kansas allows families to qualify for SCHIP if they earn just at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or less, which still leaves about 32,000 low-income children without coverage because there isn’t enough money to cover them. He said this situation isn’t right, when other states are allowed to deem eligible families earning more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. An income of just at 200 percent of the federal poverty level is about $44,000 annually for a family of four.
“My colleagues can imagine my surprise and frustration when I learned that some States were not following the intent of SCHIP. So instead of prioritizing low-income children, they were, instead, exploiting loopholes and waivers granted by the previous administration to cover high-income kids and even adults—adults being covered by a program intended for low-income children. It shows us what can happen to a program,” Roberts said. He added that under the bill, New York will be allowed to cover children from families with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
“When I asked the Senator from New York how on Earth I could go back to Kansas taxpayers and say why are you paying taxes—or why am I paying taxes, on the part of the constituent for SCHIP for low-income kids, and yet you are providing it to a State where they are having the income level at 88,200? The answer I got back is that when you are poor in New York you are poorer than you are in Kansas. My response to that is, they might want to move.”
Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Roberts’ amendment would have the effect of kicking deserving children off of the state’s health insurance plan. He said the federal poverty level does not reflect costs of living in every part of the country, such as portions of New England and the Eastern Seaboard, where costs of living are very high.
“It is true in some States kids are eligible in families earning more than twice the poverty level. These two amendments would reduce Federal funding to these States. I think that is not a good idea. We should resist efforts to kick kids off the Children’s Health Insurance Program. That is what those amendments would do,” Baucus said. “States have the option to participate. States decide if they want to participate. What I am getting at is this. If the States want to go above 300 percent of poverty, they get the lower match rate. The lower Medicaid rate. They do not get the higher Children’s Health Insurance Program match rate. It is a discouragement to those States that, at their own option, decide they want to go above 300 percent of poverty.”
By a vote of 36-60, the amendment was rejected. All but five Republicans present voted for the amendment. All but one Democrat present voted against the amendment. The end result is that the measure went forward without language that would have prohibited states from covering children under SCHIP if their gross family incomes are above $65,000 or at the median state income, whichever was lower.