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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 10:54 a.m., Monday, February 26, 2007

Bush sidesteps governors' plea on children's healthcare

Advertiser Staff and News Services


President Bush today addresses the National Governors Association in the White House's State Dining Room

Associated Press

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Gov. Linda Lingle is taking part in the National Governors Association gathering.

Advertiser file photo

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WASHINGTON — President Bush encouraged governors today to support his call for changing the tax code to help more people buy private healthcare insurance, but did not address their pleas to increase funding for a healthcare program that insures millions of children of the working poor.

Still, governors said they heard words of at least partial compromise from the administration on a budget dispute that dominated private discussions among governors yesterday.

Gov. Linda Lingle and other governors were in Washington, D.C., as part of the National Governors Association's annual winter meeting.

Lingle will also participate in the NGA Committee on Natural Resources meeting, which will focus on clean energy investments. Guest speakers include Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman; Dan Reicher, president of New Energy Capital; and Alan Waxman of Goldman Sachs and Company.


At stake is coverage for 6 million people, overwhelmingly children, as well as the hopes of many governors in tackling the larger challenge of the uninsured. All governors rely on the State Children's Health Insurance Program, intended to aid uninsured working families.

Bush, welcoming the governors after they met privately with several administration officials, did not offer any comments about the children's health program, talking rather about his larger proposals.

"I'm looking forward to working with Congress on healthcare. I firmly believe ... that states are often times the best place to reform systems and work on programs that meet needs," he said.

But Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt "made it clear that the administration will work with Congress as far as" short-term shortfalls, said North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, a Republican. Governors say 14 states could run out of cash before October. In Georgia, it could happen as soon as March.

The governors want two things:

  • Enough money to keep the program afloat through October. That is estimated at $745 million.

  • Changes to Bush's budget. Analysts say his spending plan would shortchange the health program even if the number of people served did not grow. The long-term shortfall is put at $10 billion to $15 billion over the next five years.


    Gov. Jon Corzine, a New Jersey Democrat, warned that the administration's budget promised illusory savings. "You end up paying for this in other ways — uncompensated care, emergency rooms," Corzine said. "This is pay me now or pay me later."

    Corzine said he still wanted more clarity from administration officials on support for the short-term funding, but said Leavitt had offered words of compromise.

    But the long-term issues over the program remained in dispute, governors said.

    The program, approved in 1997, covers uninsured children whose families earn too much to fall under Medicaid, the joint state-federal healthcare service for the poor.

    More than a dozen states have expanded SCHIP, with consent of the federal government, to cover adults in those families. The program now insures an estimated 639,000 adults among its 6 million.

    Many governors said the administration's efforts to scale back the program would undermine state efforts to craft universal healthcare plans. Many of these have started with a target of insuring all children.

    California, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have developed some of the most ambitious proposals to try to get to universal healthcare coverage. Most states have just tried to strengthen their healthcare system to cover more people.

    On the Web:

    State Children's Health Insurance Program: http://www.cms.hhs.gov/home/schip.asp

    National Governors Association: http://www.nga.org