SCHIP Building

Today the house is expected to vote to override President Bush’s veto of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program bill—which would increase the funding by $35 billion.

One of the arguments for SCHIP is that it will save more money in the long run. It is supposed that children who withdraw from SCHIP eschew the regular healthcare that reduces emergency medical situations, resulting in increased ER visits and a greater cost to the state.

If that is the reason for increasing spending on SCHIP, the better alternative may simply be to loosen regulations on retail health care. Retail health clinics (aka convenient care clinics) are housed in stores like Wal-Mart or CVS, staffed by physicians assistants and nurse practitioners, where patients can drop-in and receive treatment for various conditions.

Not only are these clinics about half as expensive as private physicians, but they are usually open 7 days a week and hold better hours than private practices–this convience for parents (who wouldn’t need to take off from work) makes it far more likely that children will see some health provider sooner rather than later.

The whole point of SCHIP is to increase the availability of care for children, but studies show that an increasing presence of government provided insurance, which can offer better rates than private, will actually decrease the availability of insurance by decreasing competition. According to a study by the congressional budget office, “for every 100 children who enroll as a result of SCHIP, there is a corresponding reduction in private coverage of between 25 and 50 children.”

If we allow government funded insurance to continue to inflate, private insurers will become increasingly scarce, reducing, not increasing the availability of health care for all. Further more, the fact that privately insured customers are dropping out in favor of public insurance may invalidate SCHIP proponents’ claims that the program is being used only by those families that cannot afford private insurance.

If the federal government wants to increase children’s access to health care they should encourage states to loosen regulations on retail health care clinics.