"We had introduced a bill early on, when it appeared there would be a stalemate," Deal said. "We felt like the states needed some certainty that they could count on in terms of funding, and 18 months was the most realistic time frame."
Deal said that because state legislatures don’t meet all year, it would be best to have a source of funding that would last into 2009.
Congress had passed a much larger program, which was vetoed by President Bush.
The bill included additional funding for states, like Georgia, which ran out of PeachCare funds earlier this year. Deal said the extension keeps the SCHIP program, as it is known federally, working for those who need it most.
"We were seeing many states leaving behind the children for whom the program was originally intended and that’s the children who are above the Medicaid eligibility level, but still below 200 percent of poverty," Deal said.
The action was applauded by Dr. Jack Chapman, a Gainesville physician who is president of the Medical Association of Georgia.
"MAG is pleased that the SCHIP program, recognized as PeachCare in Georgia, is extended under its current rules for Georgia’s eligibility of 235 percent of federal poverty level," Chapman said in a statement released by the association. "Congress should maintain this level of eligibility in any future legislation, emphasizing coverage for children — the original intent of the law."
Some states have been trying to expand the coverage to adults, as well as children from families in higher income brackets, something Deal said must be addressed in a longer term authorization of SCHIP, which was first approved in 1997 for a 10-year term. The Medical Association was disappointed in congressional action on the payment formula for Medicare.
"Congress must readdress this critical policy issue and pass — through a bipartisan effort — remedial long-term, fiscally responsible legislation that improves access to health care for everyone," Chapman said. "This action has caused renewed uncertainty amongst physicians about the future of the program and the availability of patient care."
Deal said the Sustainable Growth Rate, the formula for calculating physician payments under Medicare, had dictated a payment reduction, which had to be reversed by Congress.
"We’re already experiencing some providers who are withdrawing their services from the Medicare population," Deal said. "A 10 percent cut would have increased the number of doctors who would not see Medicare patients."
The temporary fix for the payment formula was approved for only six months and Deal said it would have to be revisited in 2008.