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Bush's Poison Pill for America's Kids

Just when you thought things at the White House couldn't get any stranger, the president has decided it is good public policy to increase the number of uninsured children in our country.
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Sometimes in politics, you think you've seen it all. Turns out I was wrong.

Just when you thought things at the White House couldn't get any stranger, the president has decided it is good public policy to increase the number of uninsured children in our country.

In the last year, we've seen public opinion building around the principle that no American should be denied health care. The president has answered that call by attempting to limit eligibility for the State Children's Health Insurance Program. SCHIP is a program that provides health care to children whose families make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private health insurance.

The president is trying to tell governors like me across the country that until we enroll 95 percent of those eligible for S-CHIP in households making under 200 percent of the poverty line ($41,300 for a family of four), we cannot provide health care to children in families making above 250 percent of the poverty line ($51,625 for a family of four).

Make no mistake. This is a poison pill meant to deny thousands of children health insurance.

While state governments make every effort to enroll as many eligible kids as possible, there will always be some individuals who fail to take advantage of this important program. In New York, we currently enroll 88 percent of children in families making below 200 percent of the poverty level. No state has yet cleared the 95 percent hurdle.

Since many states already enroll children at income thresholds above 250 percent of the poverty level, this means that these new regulations will have the effect of forcing children who already have coverage out of the program. Moreover, New York's historic effort to provide universal coverage for children through SCHIP will not be able to get off the ground because of this bureaucratic sleight of hand.

The president surely knows this. But then that begs the question: Why would he choose to pursue this path?

This isn't about fiscal restraint. The initiative is paid for through a tax on unhealthy cigarettes and other revenue sources. This isn't about good public policy. SCHIP has been wildly successful in providing health care for nearly seven million of our nation's vulnerable children.

The actions of the White House speak to what we've all known for far too long. When faced with the choice of covering thousands of children, they'll bring up the "big government" bogeyman and then stick their heads in the sand, ignoring the realities facing working families across the country.

This is not the way it has to be. Health care for our children should not be a partisan issue.

I have joined governors of both parties from across the country in trying to expand SCHIP coverage. My initiative to expand SCHIP and provide universal coverage to New York's children was passed by a large bi-partisan majority in our state legislature. I have even committed to taking legal action if CMS refuses to do what is right, follow the law, and insure these kids.

While we promise to keep doing our best to hold the President accountable, we cannot do it alone. We need your help

There are 400,000 uninsured children in New York and 9 million around the country who are counting on you to be their voice. Call your congressman and tell him or her to overturn the president's decision. Write the White House and tell them what you think.

I just wrote a column in the New York Daily News about this issue, which you can find here. Writing a letter to the editor of your local paper is a great way to make your opinion heard.

Standing by and letting this injustice go unanswered is simply not an option. The stakes are too high. You must do your part.

If we fail to act, 400,000 children in New York - and millions more across America - will continue to rely on the oldest and most precarious health insurance policy of all: waking up every morning and praying that they don't get sick.

Click here to watch a video of Governor Spitzer and Congressman Rangel and discussing this issue. Governor Spitzer and Governor Schwarzenegger also recently wrote a letter to the President demanding that these new rules be be withdrawn (more).

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