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Jewish World Review Jan. 20, 2000 /13 Shevat, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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The pied pipers of KidCare -- HERE, KIDDY, KIDDY. Come out, come out, wherever you are. President Clinton has a $2.7 billion treat for all you young 'uns (and some of you older 'uns, too). The bait: Ceaseless expansion of the universal health insurance scheme known popularly as "KidCare."

Under legacy-seeking Clinton and an obeisant Congress, KidCare has exploded into a medical welfare program for middle-class infants, toddlers, pre-teens, and a sizable chunk of the MTV set. What better way to entice the next generation into a full-blown system for socialized medicine?

Bipartisan sponsors gave birth to KidCare, a federal cost-sharing program, in the spring of 1997. U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) touted the proposal as a means of providing children's health insurance to "the poorest of the poor working families" -- ignoring the fact that those families were already eligible for generous medical coverage under Medicaid.

Although the stated purpose of the act was to target "uninsured, low-income children in an effective and efficient manner," KidCare now covers those who turn out not to be very poor. Thanks to federal KidCare incentives, there are currently 30 states covering children up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line. Connecticut, Missouri, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont have pushed eligibility up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line.

New Jersey, harbinger of costly entitlements to come, offers coverage to those with incomes up to 350 percent of the official poverty level – which means a family of four making $58,450 a year qualifies for government benefits originally intended to help the "poorest of the poor."

California, which covers enrollees up to 250 percent of the poverty line, allows generous income deductions to increase eligibility. Benefits for a family of four earning $41,750 a year match those available to state employees, in addition to comprehensive dental and vision coverage. New rules allow retroactive coverage for medical services as much as three months before a child was enrolled in KidCare.

A large share of KidCare participants turn out not to have been uninsured in the first place. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated last year that 40 percent of new KidCare enrollees would come from families who drop their existing private coverage in favor of the federally subsidized entitlement.

Nevertheless, Clinton this week offered an irresistible lollipop to rope in more participants: Nearly $3 billion over the next five years to target new enrollees through public schools and to allow additional sites such as child care referral centers to immediately enroll uninsured children -- before their applications are even approved.

Moreover, the White House proposal would require states to make their Medicaid enrollment "as simple as that of KidCare." Read: throw means-testing out the window. As a White House press release explains, if a state's KidCare program "does not require an assets test…it would need to apply these same rules and procedures for children in Medicaid."

To top it all off, Clinton's plan would expand Medicaid to include an option to cover "children" through age 20. The same "option" -- what state would be crazy enough to turn it down? -- would be extended to all KidCare plans. (At the same time childhood is being defined up for eligibility purposes, welfare-state advocates are pushing aggressively to define senior citizenship down. Both Clinton and Gore support lowering the Medicare age of eligibility to 55.)

What's wrong with this picture? Robert Goldberg, a senior research fellow at the D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, put it well: "Instead of trying to drag parents into Medicaid and Kidcare, why not simply give them the money to make their own choices? Why not make a credit or voucher available to those who need it to buy insurance, pay bills, or add children to their own coverage?"

Clearly, KidCare's underlying goal is not to make sure all kids are insured, but to ensure they enroll in government health plans from the cradle and demand "free" coverage to the grave. The road to socialized health care is paved with good intentions -- and painted with candy stripes.

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate