June 9, 1997 in Nation/World

Gop Backs Off Vow To Aid Elderly House Offers Kids Health Help, But Chops Medicare Proposal

New York Times

House Republicans offered a $16 billion plan to provide health care for uninsured children on Sunday, but they said they could not completely fulfill their promise to set aside $1.5 billion to help low-income elderly people pay health insurance premiums.

The Republicans said they had been unable to find all the money needed to keep that promise, which is part of the bipartisan budget agreement reached last month by President Clinton and congressional leaders.

The agreement said Congress would provide $1.5 billion in the next five years “to ease the impact of increasing Medicare premiums on low-income beneficiaries.”

But House Republicans said Sunday that they had found only $400 million for this purpose. That is the amount in legislation the House Commerce Committee expects to approve this week.

To provide any more, the Republicans said, they would have had to take the money from hospitals.

The decision will affect three million elderly people with incomes 20 percent to 50 percent above the poverty level - that is, with annual incomes from $9,468 to $11,835.

Under the “child health assistance program” proposed by House Republicans, the government would make grants to the states totaling $2.6 billion a year. The money would be distributed according to each state’s number of uninsured children and level of health costs. States would have wide latitude in spending.

Besides providing these grants to the states, House Republicans would guarantee continued Medicaid eligibility for disabled children losing coverage under the 1996 welfare law.

These children will still lose the cash benefits they receive under the Supplemental Security.

Lobbyists and other advocates for the elderly expressed varying degrees of annoyance and anger at the Republicans’ decision on Medicare.

Howard Bedlin, vice president of the National Council on the Aging, said: “They could find the money if they were committed to protecting low-income beneficiaries. We will hold their feet to the fire.”

Chris Jennings, a White House aide, said two features of the Republican bill, as now drafted, would violate the budget agreement.

Jennings said it was essential that Congress provide the full $1.5 billion for low-income elderly people.

In addition, he said he was distressed by a provision of the Republican bill that would bar federal grants to the states for children’s health insurance after 2002.

“That’s absolutely inconsistent with the budget agreement.”

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