Thursday, January 24, 2008

January 24, 2008 - The Kids Aren't OK

Today’s headline tells the sad tale: “Veto Stands on Measure to Expand Health Plan.” Yesterday, the House of Re- presentatives failed – by just 15 votes – to override President Bush’s veto of a measure to expand the Federally-funded State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). This bill would have sent additional money to the states, so they could offer free medical insurance to four million children who don’t currently qualify for this coverage. By all accounts, SCHIP is a highly successful program.

Defending his veto, the President has labeled the bill a waste of money, claiming it would have provided duplicate coverage to two million children who already have health insurance.

There’s good reason to question the President’s math. Does he actually expect us to believe that half of the four million children who would qualify for these benefits currently have medical insurance? What planet is he living on? These are low-income families, who struggle daily to pay the rent and put food on the table. Sure, a small number of these families may have employer-provided medical insurance, but it can’t be as many as he claims. Most low-wage jobs don’t offer medical insurance at all. If they do, coverage is available only for the employee, not dependents – and then, only through a hefty paycheck deduction that many families are forced to decline because they need the cash.

Even if the President’s math were correct, I’d still say, “So what?” Remember, these are poor families. With today’s sky-high health-care costs, even co-payments can be burdensome to low-income workers. I’ve known low-income families who have medical insurance, but who still choose to subject themselves to the long wait times and limited services of charity clinics because they can’t afford the co-payments charged by private physicians. Duplicate insurance that takes a bite out of co-payments wouldn’t be a bad thing in these cases, because it would move some of these families out of the charity clinics, easing the burden on these overcrowded facilities.

The article concludes by saying, “But the House Republican whip, Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, said the bill was ‘aimed more at paving the way to government-run health care than making sure poor kids have access to adequate care.’”

Here, at last, is the truth. Some members of Congress – probably more than enough to override the President’s veto – voted against the bill because they see it as a stepping-stone on the way to universal health care. That means they’re using four million poor children as a political football.

For shame.

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