A centerpiece of Hillary Clinton’s case for her candidacy – that she rebounded from the disaster of her health-care plan in 1994 to help enact a popular state-by-state program for children’s health insurance three years later – looks to be largely a fabrication.
At most, Clinton appears to have been a quiet supporter within her husband’s White House for the so-called S-CHIP program, which was fashioned through bipartisan compromise in the U.S. Senate against initial Clinton administration opposition.
Nevertheless, in debates and speeches over the past several months, Clinton has presented her S-CHIP role as proof of her key argument that the way to achieve progress in Washington is through hard work and determination.
“You know, when I wasn’t successful about getting universal health care, I didn’t give up,” Clinton said during the Feb. 26 debate in Ohio. “I just got to work and helped to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And, you know, today in Ohio 140,000 kids have health insurance.”
In speeches, Clinton alters her references to the S-CHIP program to cite the number of children covered in whatever state she’s in. Her story often receives warm applause and the nodding of heads. Sometimes, mothers of sick children are brought to Clinton’s campaign appearances to thank her.
However, according to people familiar with the history of the S-CHIP program, Clinton’s account is essentially false or – at least – a gross exaggeration.
In her memoir, Living History, the S-CHIP law merited only a brief reference at the end of a long paragraph in which she asserts, “I worked behind the scenes with Senator [Ted] Kennedy to help create the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”
However, according to a Boston Globe examination of the program’s history, Clinton “had little to do with crafting the landmark legislation or ushering it through Congress.” The Globe article by Susan Milligan quoted key participants in the law’s passage as having little or no recollection of any legislative role by the then-First Lady.
“The [Clinton] White House wasn’t for it,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who worked with Sen. Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, to write the law and to win passage. “We really had to rough them [President Bill Clinton and his advisers] up. … She may have done some advocacy [privately] over at the White House. But I’m not aware of it.”
President Clinton fought the original S-CHIP plan in 1997 because he feared it might disrupt a budget deal he was crafting with Republican leaders who then controlled Congress. However, Kennedy – recruiting Hatch and other Republicans – managed to forge a bipartisan consensus behind the bill, which passed later that year.
Asked by the Globe about Hillary Clinton’s role, Hatch responded: “Does she deserve credit for S-CHIP? No, Teddy does, but she doesn’t.”
Bay State Plan
The Globe reported that Kennedy patterned the S-CHIP plan after a Massachusetts program that started in 1996. Kennedy met with two Bay State health-care advocates, Dr. Barry Zuckerman of Boston Medical Center and John McDonough, then a Democratic state legislator.
McDonough said Kennedy developed the national S-CHIP concept after that meeting.
“I don’t recall any signs of Mrs. Clinton’s engagement,” said McDonough, who has not endorsed a presidential candidate. “I’m sure she was behind the scenes, engaged in lobbying, but it is demonstrably not the case” that she was a driving force behind the bill.