COLUMBIA — With the Democrat-led House set to attempt to override a presidential veto of an expansion of a federal health insurance program for low-income children Thursday, Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., is facing heat from some Missourians for opposing expansion of the program he helped create.
Known in Missouri as MC+ for Kids, the federally-funded State Children’s Health Insurance Program was established by Congress and President Clinton in 1997 to help families who live near the poverty level but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid to get health insurance for their children.
The program expired Sept. 30, but Congress approved an expansion of the program that would increase spending to $60 billion over the next five years. Funding for the increase would come from a 61-cent increase on the federal excise tax on cigarettes.
President Bush vetoed that measure earlier this month, though, and now the House needs a two-thirds majority to override that decision. When it voted on the expansion in September, the House was about two dozen votes short of that majority.
Hulshof, who helped create the children’s health insurance program in 1997, was one of four Missouri representatives who voted against the expansion.
“The problems he has are who would get the extra money we would spend,” said Scott Baker, Rep. Hulshof’s press secretary in Columbia. “He does not have a problem with spending extra money. In fact, he thinks the president’s unrealistic on what his goals are, that it’s way too stingy. But the biggest question is where does it go?”
Hulshof’s primary concern, Baker said, is that states would expand eligibility for the program to those who can afford private health insurance.
According to data from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the children’s insurance program serves more than 6 million children annually. In 2007, about 59,000 Missouri children were enrolled in the program, including 1,308 in Boone County, according to the Missouri Department of Social Services.
Bob Quinn, executive director for the Missouri Association for Social Welfare, said his organization is hoping Hulshof will change his mind at the last minute.
“We’re hoping he’ll look at it really hard,” Quinn said. “We’ve got a majority of the Missouri delegation who voted in favor of the bill, so you’ve got to wonder why those (who) were against it are doing it.”
Both Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond and five of the state’s representatives, including Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, voted in favor of the expansion in September.
“The president’s veto of children’s health care was a colossal mistake,” Carnahan said in a statement. “His actions once again ignore children and families in need, ignore the overwhelmingly bipartisan Congressional votes and ignore strong public support.”
Columbia resident Beth Pike said she called Hulshof’s office Wednesday morning to voice her opposition to his stance.
“I’m fortunate that my husband has a good job and we have insurance, but I realize there are a lot of people that don’t,” Pike said. “As a mother of two children, I feel like taking care of their health is important. I think there’s becoming more people being laid off from jobs, and people might find themselves needing access to health care they can’t get from their provider.”
Baker said the notion that Hulshof doesn’t want poor children to have access to health insurance is “ludicrous.”
“Rep. Hulshof helped create this program in the first place, so you can’t claim he’s against it,” Baker said. “He believes the current bill is too large and has too many problems. He’d like to see some consensus in the middle.”