Tuesday, August 21, 2007

August 21, 2007 - The Least Among Us

I just read these words, that open a news article in today's New York Times:

"The Bush administration, continuing its fight to stop states from expanding the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, has adopted new standards that would make it much more difficult for New York, California and others to extend coverage to children in middle-income families.

Administration officials outlined the new standards in a letter sent to state health officials on Friday evening, in the middle of a monthlong Congressional recess. In interviews, they said the changes were intended to return the Children’s Health Insurance Program to its original focus on low-income children and to make sure the program did not become a substitute for private health coverage."

The last part of the sentence is the ringer: "and to make sure the program did not become a substitute for private health coverage." The insurance lobby, in other words, has convinced the Administration to protect their turf, and the Administration has compliantly agreed.

I'm going to cut to the chase, here, about this recent move by the White House, without using diplomatic language: This is evil. As citizens, we need to oppose it.

Here in New Jersey, we have a well-regarded, taxpayer-funded program called New Jersey FamilyCare, that enables low-income - and even some lower-middle-income - families to get free, basic medical coverage for their children. It's funded, in large part, by Federal money, passed down to the State. I've referred many families to it.

Kids aren't expensive to insure. Most don't have high medical expenses. Yet, before FamilyCare came along, affordable, stand-alone insurance for kids was hard to find. The insurance companies weren't much interested in offering it, and many cash-strapped families tended not to buy it (even if they could find it), because they didn't like to even think of their kids getting a catastrophic illness. What we ended up with was a whole lot of bake sales and benefit spaghetti dinners, to help such-and-such a family, whose child had brain cancer or cystic fibrosis, avoid losing their home. (Believe me, you have to sell a whole lot of cupcakes to keep a family from losing their home - and, that sort of thing diverts a community's energy and resources away from other projects, like helping families that were poor to begin with get into their own home in the first place.)

Setting compassion aside for a moment, offering programs like New Jersey FamilyCare is smart for another reason, one that even the most jaded capitalist can appreciate. Widespread medical care for children means fewer long-term, disabling conditions that will only cost society in the long run, once these unfortunate kids grow up to become wards of the state.

The people who run New Jersey FamilyCare don't think much of the new guidelines:

"'We are horrified at the new federal policy,' said Ann Clemency Kohler, deputy commissioner of human services in New Jersey. 'It will cause havoc with our program and could jeopardize coverage for thousands of children.'"

The Administration has accomplished this move by fiat, without consulting Congress. The Times article says there's a chance Congress may override it. Let's hope they do.

"And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'"

- Matthew 25:40


Anonymous said...

Amen and Amen!

While we're talking about "the least of these", I have to put in my 2 cents about another population. There has been criticism of Michael Vick's punishment, noting that there has been a greater outcry about the brutal abuse of animals than about spouse abuse.

My response seems so obvious to me - neither animals nor small children have any voice in determining their care (or their elders' attitudes).

I do understand that the wife of an abuser is ensnared in a complex web of emotions and economic, family, and religious considerations. But she can speak.

How can we use children as political pawns of the insurance industry??


Carl said...

What's that someone said? Something about the worth of any society being judged according to how it treats the least and lowliest among them?