U.S. Bishops Conference

Catholic leaders urge Congress to strengthen Child Health Insurance Program

.- Calling access to adequate health care a basic human right, the leaders of three national Catholic organizations have urged Congress to strengthen and expand a federal health program that provides health insurance coverage for children.

In a letter to the House and Senate Budget Committees, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Health Association of the United States, and Catholic Charities USA urged Congress to adequately fund the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) so that all children eligible for the program get health care.

“The SCHIP program was enacted to provide coverage to low-income children who do not qualify for Medicaid because their family income is too high,” the Catholic organizations wrote.

“Over 4 million children have health care coverage through SCHIP. But there are still almost 9 million uninsured children in the United States, over two-thirds of whom are eligible for SCHIP or Medicaid but are not enrolled.”

In their letter, the Catholic leaders said that they were encouraged that President George Bush’s proposed 2008 budget includes more funding for children’s health care, but they noted that the proposed $5-billion increase over five years will not be sufficient to continue coverage for those children now in SCHIP. It could cost about $60 billion over five years to maintain current enrollment in the program and to enroll all eligible children, the leaders estimated.

The three major Catholic organizations also raised concerns about deep cuts proposed in the president’s budget for Medicaid and Medicare over the next five years, and called on Congress to reject any funding reductions in either of these programs.

”Much of the proposed Medicaid savings would result not from substantively improving the program but simply by reducing the federal contribution. This could result in low-income families, people with disabilities, and seniors facing higher payments for services or even losing coverage altogether,” the leaders wrote in their letter.

“The proposals could also severely threaten the ability of many Catholic hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities to serve their communities, and could further unravel an already frail health care safety net,” they added.

The Catholic community is one of the largest, nongovernmental providers of health and human services in the country. One in six Americans receives health care through Catholic health care institutions.

In a related action, the three organizations, along with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men; Ladies of Charity United States of America; the Leadership Conference of Women Religious; and the Catholic schools of social work worked to mobilize Catholics across the country to contact their U.S. representatives and senators on March 21 to support increased funding for children's health insurance coverage through reauthorization of SCHIP.

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