Census data adds to congressional debate on SCHIP reauthorization

WASHINGTON The response to the U.S. Census Bureau report released earlier this week that 47 million Americans went without health insurance in 2006 has been quick and vocal.

The census data also found that 11.7 percent of U.S. children under 18 lacked health insurance, compared with 10.9 percent in 2005. In a statement released Tuesday, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, Georges Benjamin, observed, "This is a travesty."

"Tragically, our children share the burden. 8.7 million children—or more than one in 10—were uninsured in 2006, up from 8 million," he continued. "Access to health care is critical, especially for children. Children who are uninsured are more than three times less likely to have seen a doctor in the last year and have a higher incidence of preventable disease than insured children."

The data served to add more voices to an already contentious debate in Washington regarding Congress’ reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, designed with the goal of expanding health insurance to children whose families earn too much money to be eligible for Medicaid, but not enough money to purchase private insurance.

"Today's news serves as even more evidence that programs like SCHIP must be fully funded and extended to the growing numbers of uninsured Americans," said Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. "Healthcare costs are soaring, and our healthcare professionals are feeling incredible burdens."

The White House, in an effort to rein in spending on the SCHIP, has argued that the federal government should not be spending money on insurance for the middle class.

"Almost 15 years ago, there were 37 million people uninsured," Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, said in a statement Tuesday. "It was an outrage then and with 10 million more people uninsured today, it is an even deeper outrage today. Yet, the uninsured have been invisible to this president."

The president has threatened, should the bill contain significantly higher funding than in the past, to veto the SCHIP, which expires on Sept. 30.

"Given these grim statistics, all eyes are now on Congress," Benjamin stated. "There is no better opportunity for us to turn these numbers around and ensure that kids get the health care, including access to preventive care, they need than reauthorizing and expanding the SCHIP. The program expires in a month. Congress must act and forward the strongest possible SCHIP bill to the president for his signature."