Wednesday, October 17, 2007

George Will Practices a Little Slight of Hand

In today's Wash Post, George Will sticks in a paragraph about the dubiousness of the SCHIP extension:

SCHIP is described as serving "poor children" or children of "the working poor." Everyone agrees that it is for "low-income" people. Under the bill that Democrats hope to pass over the president's veto tomorrow, states could extend eligibility to households earning $61,950. But America's median household income is $48,201. How can people above the median income be eligible for a program serving lower-income people?

Wow. That sounds pretty bad, doesn't it? If the median household income is $48k why should we be subsidizing health care for people making $62k?

Ah, but notice Will plays a little mixitup with state and national income amounts. He first says that states "could" extend eligibility to households earning $62k. Then he points out that the national median household income is lower than this 62k giveaway, being only 48k, again, nationwide.

Now, it stands to figure, doesn't it, that if the national median household income is 48k, that some states probably average higher than that, right? So, if a state is going to raise its income eligibility amount, it will probably be in these higher income states, right?

Fortunately, Robert Pear, writing in today's NYT gives us a little more info:

In general, children with family incomes below the poverty level ($20,650 for a family of four) are eligible for Medicaid. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program is meant for families with too much income to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private insurance.

OK. So, we find here that the goal of SCHIP is to subsidize health insurance coverage for families with income above the poverty level, which for a family of four is about $21k. So, automatically, we can assume that qualifying income for SCHIP is going to be in excess of $21k to be compatible with the program's goals and intent.

But let's return to Pear's article:

States establish income limits for the child health program. A recent survey by the Congressional Research Service found that 32 states had set limits at twice the poverty level or less, while 17 states had limits from 220 percent to 300 percent of the poverty level. Only one state, New Jersey, has a higher limit. It offers coverage to children with family incomes up to 350 percent of the poverty level, or $72,275 for a family of four.

In New York, which covers children up to 250 percent of the poverty level, the Legislature this year passed a bill that would have raised the limit to 400 percent of the poverty level, or $82,600 for a family of four. The Bush administration rejected the proposal, saying it would have allowed the substitution of public coverage for private insurance.

States that cover middle-income children often charge premiums and co-payments on a sliding scale, so the coverage is not free.

So, 32 states fund SCHIP at 200% of poverty or less. This in effect means that the income cutoff for families in a majority of states is about $42k, $6k less than Will's national median household income.

Meanwhile, the state with the highest income cutoff, New Jersey, had a median household income of $62k in 2004, which ranked it #1 among the 50 states in that income category. And the state of NJ's median household income of $62k was $14k higher than Will's national median.

Thus endeth the lesson.