Cardin stumps for override of Bush's health care veto in Hagerstown

October 16, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

HAGERSTOWN - Though he did not mention U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett by name, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin's focus was clear during a 30-minute speech Monday at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.

"I urge all Americans to contact their members of Congress and urge them to override this veto," Cardin said, referring to President Bush's veto of a $35 billion expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

As the only member of the Maryland congressional delegation to side with Bush on the issue, Bartlett, R-6th, has come under pressure from state and federal officials to change his position before Thursday, when the House is scheduled to vote on whether to override Bush's veto of the bill.

The House recently passed the bill 265-159, with 45 Republicans voting with the majority. If everyone votes, the House would need 290 votes to override the veto.


The Senate passed the measure by more than the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

The program was created by the federal government in 1997 to subsidize health coverage for families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to pay for private insurance.

The bill would expand coverage to about 10 million children by raising the program's income eligibility limit from two times the federal poverty level to three times the federal poverty level.

It also would raise the program's annual cost to the federal government from about $5 billion a year to $12 billion. The increase would be paid for with a 61-cent increase in federal cigarette taxes.

Those who support the program's expansion say it is necessary to offset rising health care costs. Opponents argue that it is too expensive and would offer benefits to families who could pay for private coverage on their own.

"I support continuing S-CHIP health insurance for all children of the working poor, but that is not what this debate is about," said Bartlett, who voted for the original program in 1997.

Bartlett said he is in line with Bush's proposal to spend about $30 billion on the program over five years instead of the $60 billion proposed in the current expansion bill.

Kim Murdaugh, executive director of the Walnut Street Community Health Center, said she disagrees with Bartlett.

"Health care is not getting cheaper," Murdaugh said, noting that almost 1,000 children at the center benefit from the program. "We need this expansion for families in Washington County."

Cardin argued Monday that the program's current income eligibility-about $40,000 for a family of four-is too low.

"If you're trying to support a family on $40,000, health insurance is just not affordable," Cardin said.

The Washington County Health Department has averaged just fewer than 5,000 program beneficiaries a month, Health Officer Earl Stoner said.

"It's one of the core programs that we have," Stoner said.

Stoner said the department receives an annual grant of $226,249 from the program. He said he did not know how much that would increase if the expansion bill is passed.

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