Budget Deal Improves Youth Health Picture

Bill Howard
September 1, 1997

Young people have emerged as rare winners in the something-for- everyone FY 1998 balanced budget agreement crafted by President Clinton and GOP Congressional leaders that also cuts taxes for the well off.

In a deal first worked out by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the agreement ear-marks $24 billion over five years for a new program to provide medical care to children and youth who lack health insurance. Upwards of 5 million of the estimated 10 million uninsured children are expected to benefit from the program financed by a 10-cents per pack increase in the federal tax on cigarettes.

The agreement also establishes tax relief for students from their freshman year onward, plus aims to make higher education more affordable through other benefits and credits. Republicans insisted and won a $400-per-child under 17 income tax deduction for all families with incomes up to $110,000 a year — a tax break estimated to cost the Treasury $84 billion over five years.

Under the agreement states have three options in providing health benefits to young people: the standard federal employee Blue Cross-Blue Shield plan, any state health plan offered to state employees or the health maintenance organization with the largest commercial enrollment in a state. States also can devise their own equivalent package of benefits so long as they have the same dollar value as any of the three options and include hospital and doctors' services, laboratory services, immunizations, regular physical checkups and x-ray services.

Mental health, vision, hearing and prescription drug services also are to be covered.

Governors welcomed the new health plan. But in a statement to newsmen, the Children's Defense Fund's general counsel, James D. Weill, said the agreement gave states "too much room to adopt an inadequate package of benefits."

Conservatives stuck in a new teen abortion barrier. The bill slaps a broad new restriction on the states, forbidding them from using federal money to "pay for any abortion or to assist in the purchase, in whole or in part. of health benefit coverage that includes coverage of abortion." This injunction excludes teenagers from enrollment in any health plan that does cover abortions.

President Clinton has hailed the budget pact and its enactment as an "historic action to eliminate the annual budget deficits we have been seeing and piling up since 1969." He also protested the abortion ban, telling Congress it will "deny access to abortion services to poor women." (An estimated 450,000 of the 1.5 million abortions performed annually are on women under 20.) But the president did not exercise his new line-item veto power to excise the ban.

Howard, Bill. "Budget Deal Improves Youth Health Picture." Youth Today, Sept/Oct 1997, p. 26.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.