With funding for the popular State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, due to expire at the end of September if Congress doesn’t act to reauthorize it, calls have been coming from around the state – including from GOP Gov. Butch Otter – for Idaho’s congressional delegation to help save the program. But the differing reauthorization bills that passed each house in early August have drawn sharp criticism from Idaho's all-Republican delegation. Both bills include large increases in the federal 39-cent-per-pack cigarette tax to fund the SCHIP expansion – the Senate bill increases that tax by 61 cents a pack and the House bill by 45 cents. The House bill also trims some Medicare programs for the elderly to fund the expansions to SCHIP.
Sen. Larry Craig, shortly before the Aug. 2 vote to pass the Senate version of the bill, called the measure "a massive expansion of SCHIP, I suspect in an effort to move the United States ever closer to a government-run health care system."
Taryn Magrini, a spokeswoman for the Idaho Community Action Network, which organized a rally in Boise for SCHIP on Friday, said: "It is a big increase, but it is my belief that all children should have access to health care. If it's a cigarette tax, we'll take a cigarette tax. I just want my kids covered.” After the rally, action network members and children dressed in chocolate chip cookie costumes visited Reps. Sali and Simpson's offices to offer staffers chocolate chip cookies and call on them to be "CHIP champs" and support reauthorization.
In late August, Otter, also a Republican, joined health care officials, business people and hospital officials in Salmon, Idaho, at a press conference calling on Congress to reauthorize and adequately fund SCHIP, which now covers about 19,000 Idaho children. A recent state-funded study estimated that 10 percent of Idaho children lack any health insurance. Read my full article here.