Bills threaten unborn & elderly, leaders say

WASHINGTON (BP)--Congress has approved legislation to expand a health insurance program for children that could remove protections for unborn babies and the elderly, according to pro-life organizations.

The Senate passed with a 68-31 vote Aug. 2 a bill to reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The House of Representatives approved Aug. 1 an even more expansive version in a 225-204 vote.

The different versions will have to be reconciled by a conference committee of members of both houses before a final bill can go to the White House. President Bush has threatened to veto the legislation.

SCHIP provides federal funds to states to cover children in low-income families that are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but unable to afford private insurance. First authorized in 1997, SCHIP has provided $40 billion over the last 10 years, reducing the number of uninsured children by about two million during that time.

The measures approved by both the Senate and House, however, undermine a five-year-old, Bush administration rule that enables states to include unborn children in the coverage. The House version also contains a provision that would have the effect of prohibiting the elderly from supplementing government payments for Medicare health insurance with their own money, resulting in the likelihood of health-care rationing and involuntary euthanasia, according to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC).

Sen. Wayne Allard, R.-Colo., sought to restore the "unborn child rule" in his chamber's version with an amendment codifying it into the law Aug. 2, but it failed in a 50-49 vote.

Southern Baptist ethics specialist Richard Land, who has supported SCHIP in the past, decried both measures.

"Leave it to the Democratic leadership to ruin what had been a helpful and hopeful program in providing medical care for uninsured children and expectant mothers and their unborn children," said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

"Now they have ruined this legislation by taking away medical care afforded to the unborn child of an expectant mother and lessened the protection and coverage for the elderly," he said. "They have attacked the sanctity of life both at the beginning and the latter stages of life."

Barrett Duke, the ERLC's vice president for public policy, said, "Neither the House nor the Senate versions are worthy substitutes for the original SCHIP bill. The bills are so riddled with problematic sections that the president has already announced his intention to veto them, and rightly so. It is a shame that Democrats and a few irresponsible Republicans have taken a program that has been wildly successful and sought to advance their personal agendas through it."

Duke urged pro-life Americans to act before the conference committee reports its version to both houses.

"Everyone who cares about the sanctity of every human life should contact their congressman and senators and tell them that they do not want SCHIP to discriminate against the elderly or the unborn," he said.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, charged that the liberal sponsors' elimination of distinct coverage for the unborn was a "payoff to one of their biggest supporters -- Planned Parenthood. The irony of how a bill once designed to save children could now be twisted to incentivize killing them should not be lost on anyone."

The House version also includes language undercutting abstinence education funding by expanding it to include "comprehensive sex education" programs, such as those promoted by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Doug Johnson, the NRLC's legislative director, told Baptist Press, "We're certainly going to try to work to get the strongest language possible" in the version that comes out of the conference committee. Many of the people who voted for the Senate bill would not necessarily support the House version, he said.

In 2002, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new rule permitting states to provide coverage under SCHIP for not only low-income, pregnant women but their preborn children as well. Previously, SCHIP coverage had been allowed for children under 19 years of age. The new rule clarified the coverage encompassed children from conception through age 18.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights organizations opposed the "unborn child rule."

Since the rule's inception, 11 states -- Arkansas, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin –- have utilized this option, the National Right to Life Committee reported.

While the Senate version of the SCHIP reauthorization takes no position on the "unborn child rule," it leaves open the possibility a future administration could rescind it, unless it is codified in law.

Allard's amendment to codify the "unborn child rule" failed even though Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, both of Massachusetts and two of the chamber's strongest defenders of abortion rights, voted for it. In addition to Kennedy and Kerry, three other Democrats -- Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska -- also supported the amendment.

Though 44 Republicans voted for Allard's amendment, five GOP members -- Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine; Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens, both of Alaska, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania -- joined 43 Democrats and two independents to defeat it.

The NRLC warned the House version's bar on permitting the elderly to use their money in addition to government funds for Medicare would endanger their health care and potentially their lives.

"The economic reality is that in order to provide Medicare coverage for the baby boom generation as it retires without unrealistically massive tax increases, government payments per beneficiary will not be able to keep up with medical inflation," NRLC officers said in a letter to House members. "If the funds available for health care for senior citizens from all sources are so limited, the only possible result will be rationing. Since senior citizens are required to participate in Medicare, this would amount to government-imposed involuntary euthanasia."

Some critics have condemned the newly approved SCHIP expansion measures because they require sharp increases in federal funds and mark a dramatic shift from private to government coverage for health care.

The House version would cost more than $200 billion the next 10 years, while the Senate bill would add $60 billion to the budget deficit during the next decade, Perkins said.

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