Schwartz tones down role in Pa. CHIP law

Allyson Schwartz, running for Pa. governor.
Allyson Schwartz, running for Pa. governor. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 09, 2014

For two decades, it has helped define Allyson Schwartz's political identity: She has billed herself as the "mother" of the state Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides health coverage to children of the working poor.

She has claimed to have "spearheaded" and "led the effort" to enact the program as a state senator. After joining Congress, Schwartz once called herself "the architect" of CHIP on the floor of the House.

Now that she is running for governor, however, the Democrat has toned down her role in that 1992 bill, giving credit to others sometimes absent in past versions.

In November, Schwartz's campaign website stated she had "established the groundbreaking . . . program." Now it says she "worked with former Governor Robert P. Casey and former [state] Representative Allen Kukovich" to start CHIP, the model for a national version enacted during the Clinton administration.

The program stars in Schwartz's first TV ad of the governor's race, which began airing Monday. She says she pushed the CHIP bill through when it was bogged down in the Senate.

"It's the kind of big ideas, it's the kind of experience, it's the kind of leadership I'll bring as your next governor," Schwartz says in the commercial.

When asked about the changing description of her role in the program, Mark Bergman, spokesman for the Schwartz campaign, said that the earlier version on the website was accurate.

"Working with others, she did establish the program," he said. "She's often said she worked with others to get legislation passed."

By all accounts, Kukovich originated the idea in the late 1980s to provide health insurance coverage for the children of adults who made too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but did not get insurance at work and could not afford it on the private market.

Kukovich said Monday that the legislation languished for several years, until 1991, when State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), then chairman of the Appropriations Committee, helped him by slipping in language that would divert two cents of an increase in the tax on a pack of cigarettes for children's health insurance. The idea now had a funding source, about $20 million a year.

After the death of U.S. Sen. John Heinz, Democrat Harris Wofford won a special election to succeed him in November 1991, running exclusively on the issue of access to health care. Casey got on board and pushed Senate Republican leaders to the bargaining table, Kukovich said.

His CHIP bill passed the state House, and Schwartz took up the cause as sponsor in the state Senate, he said. Kukovich said Senate Democratic leaders were lukewarm, and that's where Schwartz, then a first-term senator, came in. "Allyson did approach me and said 'Allen, I like your bill; can I help you?' I said, 'Sure.' "

Finally, Sen. Frank Pecora, a Republican from Allegheny County, switched parties, giving the Democrats a momentary majority. CHIP passed, and Casey signed it.

"There were a lot of people who played a role," Kukovich said.

Kukovich said he did not think Schwartz was out of line for taking credit.

"That's natural with everybody in politics," Kukovich said. "People who never even voted for it later put it in their newsletters to constituents and took credit for it."

He said, "I've always understood I could get more accomplished legislatively if I subjugated my ego and didn't care who got the credit."


tfitzgerald@phillynews.com

215-854-2718

@tomfitzgerald

www.inquirer.com/bigtent

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