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Time for Compromise on SCHIP

By Jim DeMint

The debate in Washington over the State Children Health Insurance program (SCHIP) has reached a fever pitch. Even as the House of Representatives has sustained President Bush's veto, congressional Democrats and their supporters on the outside vow to pass the same bill again and force a repeat performance.

This will no doubt be accompanied by the same kind of propaganda we have seen over the last few weeks, including the shameless use of children as political props.

It comes as no surprise though that these tactics are employed. Every Democratic candidate for President and virtually all of their members of congress have expressed support for Washington-run health care in which, once and for all, the federal government takes over the responsibility for our health and our healthcare.

The stakes are high.

But what has been lost amongst all the claptrap is that there are very real problems with our health care system that must be fixed. Folks need help, and we need real reform to ensure they receive it.

The good news is that there is a better way to fix our health care system that should serve as a compromise between congressional Democrats and Republicans.

My colleague Senator Mel Martinez has proposed a compromise that is anchored in the common ground that both Republicans and Democrats share: we all want to ensure that poor children receive the care they need and we all want every American to have access to quality health care. I am a proud cosponsor of Senator Martinez's plan.

Rather than expand the government-run SCHIP program to cover middle-income children in homes making more than $80,000 a year (which will include over 70% of America's children), our plan reauthorizes SCHIP to ensure poor children continue to receive health care. The plan goes further to tackle the problem of the uninsured by providing a tax credit to middle class families for their children's health insurance.

This would allow families to purchase health plans for their kids that they choose, rather than being handed a one-size-fits-all Washington-run plan. Another benefit of this approach is that unlike the Democrat's SCHIP proposal, our plan would not force children off private insurance and onto government plans. By turning patients into shoppers we will inject more choice and competition into the health care market resulting in more competitive prices for health care premiums.

All told, the tax credit approach provides health care to 10.5 million children whereas the Democrat SCHIP plan forces 1.2 million kids onto government rolls. Through this innovative approach we offer better coverage to far more.

Another important component of this plan is an outreach program designed to ensure that all eligible poor children receive SCHIP coverage. Current estimates project that as many as 1.5 million poor children are not receiving coverage under SCHIP for the simple reason that their parents are unaware the program exists. Poor kids need to be covered first, and this helps ensure that they are.

It's time that we be very honest with ourselves about the debate we are engaged in. We are either going to move down the path of Washington-run health care that has proven disastrous in countless European nations, or we are going to reform our current health care system to empower individuals, not Washington politicians, to make choices about their own health care.

I support the latter approach and believe that this compromise on SCHIP is the best thing we can do for our kids' future. We should continue to provide a safety net that covers our nation's poor children while at the same time offering alternatives that allow individual Americans have control of their own health care decisions.

It's time for this Congress to put politics aside and for once actually act in the best interest of our children.

Jim DeMint is a U.S. Senator from South Carolina.

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