McNerney says health a top issue

MANTECA -- Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, said Thursday that congressional democrats will keep pushing to expand a national health program for children.

Last year, President Bush vetoed legislation calling for a five-year renewal of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, including a $35 billion expansion of the program to cover an additional 10 million children. Although the president opposed the expansion, he agreed to extend the SCHIP program through March 2009.

"There is no way we are going to back down," McNerney said during a meeting with his health care advisory committee. "It's a moral position. It's a position with a vast majority of Americans behind it."

McNerney spent an hour discussing health-care issues with the committee, made up of representatives of private and public health care agencies in his district. He represents an area including portions of the Bay Area and San Joaquin County.

The congressman asked the committee members for their opinion of the California health-care reform proposal supported by Gov. Schwarzenegger. One panel member said it is an admirable proposal, but there isn't enough money identified to fund it.

"If it flies, it is going to fly as a different bird than is projected so far," said Michael Kirkpatrick, director of Community Medical Centers, which operates clinics for low-income residents in San Joaquin County.