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October 4, 2021
San Mateo Daily News

President's veto on health care could impact local kids
Officials say insurance program needs more funding

By Shaun Bishop

Children of low-income families in San Mateo County might lose their health insurance coverage after President Bush vetoed a bill to expand health insurance for youngsters nationwide.

Bush's move on Wednesday drew sharp criticism from Democrats nationwide and local officials, who said nearly 10,000 children in San Mateo County could be affected.

The bipartisan legislation would have reauthorized the State Children's Health Insurance Program - which covers families who don't qualify for Medicare but can't afford private insurance - and expanded it by $35 billion over five years to allow up to 10 million children nationwide to participate.

Bush argued that the bill was too costly and would divert the program from its original purpose of helping poor children. He said it would encourage families not covered by the current program to sign up for government-funded health care.

But local officials said the families that the expansion would have included are in dire need of reliable health care - especially in the Bay Area, where the cost of living is so high.

"The part that I find so amusing and sad is the fact he criticized the legislation for helping rich kids," Supervisor Jerry Hill said. "In San Mateo County, because of our high cost of living, there's nothing rich about people who are making 250 percent of the poverty level," or an annual income of $51,625 for a family of four - the level that qualifies California kids for the program.

"They are poor children. This is not Kansas or Alabama," Hill continued. "It's another example where San Mateo County and California get squeezed by the federal government."

Marmi Bermudez, health coverage outreach coordinator for the county, said San Mateo County has about 9,300 children covered under the state Healthy Families program, which is California's version of the SCHIP program.

The president's veto rejected reauthorization for the entire program, though Bush said he is willing to negotiate with Democrats on smaller funding increases. The $35 billion expansion would have been paid for by raising the federal tax on cigarettes by 61 cents, to about $1 a pack.

State officials may choose to cap enrollment in the program or take some children off the plan, Bermudez said. That could put the burden on the county to pay for coverage for those youngsters.

Even if the program was reauthorized at current funding levels, California's program would probably face cuts because the state is overspending its allocation, Bermudez said. The veto also eliminated funding for 350 children in the county's own Healthy Kids program, which provides coverage for youngsters who don't qualify for Healthy Families, Bermudez said.

Democratic leaders have scheduled an Oct. 18 vote to override the president's veto in an effort to place pressure on Republican lawmakers over the next couple of weeks.

Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, called the veto "a blow against health care for the nation's poor, putting families across the nation at great risk."

The president's move will also set back efforts in California to develop a universal health care plan, said State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Mateo/San Francisco.

"Part of our plan was predicated on this federal program," Yee said. "It makes our job in California even more difficult to achieve universal health care."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.