HHS Hacks Plant Lies in Letters

Bill Scher

Four regional directors of the Department of Health and Human Services signed their names on copycat letters sent to editorial pages across the country, spreading misinformation about opposing children’s health insurance proposals.

At minimum, in the southeast Chris Downing sent the letter to the Lincoln Tribune, Charlotte Observer, Beaufort Gazette, The News-Journal (Daytona Beach), The Ledger (Lakeland, FL) and Tallahassee Democrat.

Maureen Lydon sent the same to the Indianapolis Star and Battle Creek Enquirer in the Midwest. Gordon Woodrow got it in the The Register-Herald (Beckley, WV), Charleston Gazette (WV) and Baltimore Sun. Out west, Tom Lorentzen placed the letter in the San Francisco Chronicle and Las Vegas Review-Journal.

All four somehow managed to come up with identical wording for the same dishonest points.

For example:

The President supports reauthorizing this important program for low income children [the State Children’s Health Insurance Program] with enough new funding to ensure that no one currently enrolled loses coverage.

This is a flat lie. Bush’s proposal would take away coverage from some currently enrolled kids by imposing a federal income limit on eligiblity. (Currently, states have the flexibility to set their own limits.)

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that “about 200,000 children who would otherwise be covered through SCHIP in 2012 would instead be uninsured” by a Senate GOP proposal which follows Bush’s stated principles.

And the head of the American Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. Rick Kellerman of Wichita, KS, lambasted the president’s paltry funding as insufficient to simply maintain the level of children’s coverage that currently exists: “By not providing the funding needed to maintain the program, the Bush administration is stripping health care for indigent children and families.”

The copycat letter from the HHS hacks also says that the bills expanding SCHIP, approved by the House and Senate, would:

extend eligibility to millions of children who already have private insurance or whose parents earn enough to afford private insurance.

Do we really want to force taxpayers to pay for government insurance for children whose parents earn $70,000 or $80,000 a year? That’s what this bill would do.

This is merely misleading and disingenuous.

The White House spin tries to make you believe this money will be spent on people who don’t need any help.

In fact, nearly all the proposed funds would reach kids who are either uninsured or underinsured with inadequate private coverage. (The Senate bill would cover an additional 3-4 million uninsured children, out of 9 million.)

Contrast that with Bush’s health insurance proposal, largely consisting of tax breaks. More than 75% of Bush’s benefits would go to families that already have coverage. (Further, it would fail to increase the overall number of insured kids.)

Few states have eligibility limits as high as Bush’s spin would tell you. One is New Jersey, because it has a higher cost of living and middle-class families are getting squeezed. The Record reports:

Bush also wanted to limit federal reimbursement to children in families making up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $41,300 for a family of four.

New Jersey covers those making up to 350 percent, arguing the cost of living is higher than in many states and such families are still needy. New Jersey also covers adults, because state officials found more people would sign up if coverage is provided for the whole family. Bush had wanted to limit funding to children.

Under New Jersey’s program, a family of four making up to $72,275 can cover its children for $125 a month.

The low-cost coverage is a godsend for cash-strapped families that would not be able to get coverage anywhere else, according to Ilia Villanueva, executive director of Community Action for Social Affairs in Paterson.

The whole idea of the program is to provide states the flexibility to meet their needs. Ninety percent of the funds goes to families earning less than $41,000 (for a family of four), while states with middle-class families who are still squeezed aren’t left out in the cold.

This bogus letter operation is just a part of Bush’s larger spin campaign, detailed by Art Levine for In These Times, to defeat any expansion of children’s health insurance.

While the spin didn’t stop 18 Senate Republicans from giving SCHIP expansion a veto-proof margin, House Republicans generally stood with Bush, and the 15% of voters who don’t support more insurance for kids.

The White House is doing all it can to mislead the public, so House Republicans can sustain an expected veto without jeopardizing their seats.

These dishonest tactics must be exposed, because the health of our kids is at risk.

UPDATE: Perhaps the original writer of these letters is none other than … ROVEMORT!

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