ALEXANDRIA, VA – Two weeks ago today, while families across the country were putting their kids to bed, the Bush Administration issued a directive setting forth criteria by which hundreds of thousands of American children in as many as 23 states would lose their health coverage.

The directive includes a number of guidelines, one of which is the mandatory enrollment of 95 percent of children living in families earning less than $34,340 (for a family of three) that are eligible for State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) or Medicaid.

In a puzzling attempt to diminish the harmful impact and the near unanimous outcry against this new directive, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt has issued a document that indicates they now believe that 41 states actually meet this requirement. However, analyzing the same data, the Georgetown Center for Children and Families find that no state will be able to prevent children from being thrown off coverage.

“Although the Administration is trying to undo the damage they have caused with this late night directive, it fails to solve the problem they created. In fact, this is only one of several unattainable guidelines that states must meet before they are forced to remove children from their State CHIP programs,” said Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus.

This week in a letter to President Bush, Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Elliot Spitzer (D), who represent nearly a quarter of those currently enrolled in SCHIP, said: “While we are committed to enrolling all eligible children, achieving a standard of 95 percent is virtually impossible. This is not a static population, and there is no valid way to measure this standard.”

“The health and well being of hundreds of thousands of American children should not depend on data upon which nobody agrees,” Lesley added. “Regardless, even the Administration’s interpretation of this requirement were correct, health coverage for all children is still at risk because it is virtually impossible to meet the other criteria.”

Those criteria include ensuring that the number of individuals enrolled in private insurance will not decline by more than 2 percentage points over a 5-year period. However, recent census data indicates that nationally, the decline is almost twice that (3.6%), so again, health coverage for hundreds of thousands of children is still threatened.

Moreover, states must establish that a child has been uninsured for a minimum of a one-year period.

“Its irresponsible to ask a child with cancer or a pregnant woman to wait one full year for health coverage, even if a parent dies or loses their job. To protect the health and well being of our children, this directive should be put to bed and withdrawn,” said Lesley.
“Children are one-quarter of our population, but all of our future. We should be working towards the goal of removing children from the ranks of the uninsured, not adding them.”