Hot battle: childrens health care vs. Bush

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The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is under attack by the White House.

Created under the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, SCHIP is set to expire Sept. 30. On July 19, the Senate Finance Committee voted on a new version to bring 3.3 million more children into the program at a cost of $35 billion over five years. The administration has proposed a paltry $5 billion added funding.

Now the House of Representatives has approved an even stronger bill calling for improvements in Medicare. Both bills would raise federal tobacco taxes.

President Bush says he will veto the legislation because it is a step “down the path to government-run health care for every American.” He also objects to the cost, and has claimed on other occasions that government-financed and operated health care will lead to long lines and rationing.

SCHIP provides health insurance to families with incomes too high for Medicaid who do not have employer-provided policies. A family of four with an annual income around $36,200 would qualify for SCHIP in many states. Families with higher incomes can purchase health insurance through SCHIP for less than they would pay for private insurance. SCHIP served more than 6 million children in 2006.

Because of SCHIP, covered children can see a doctor regularly, receive immunizations, be hospitalized if necessary and receive emergency room care as needed.

Children who do not have insurance are less likely to receive preventive care. The Campaign for Children’s Health Care, a national advocacy group, says uninsured children are more likely to have untreated chronic health problems, potentially resulting in lifelong disabilities. For example, ear infections can cause permanent hearing loss.

A 2007 study by Brigham Young and Arizona State Universities found that children who drop out of SCHIP end up costing states more money. Parents of uninsured children rely on emergency rooms, where care can cost thousands of dollars more than in a doctor’s office. Often, by the time a child reaches an emergency room, complications have developed, increasing pain, suffering and costs. ER staffs are only obliged to stabilize the patient, usually meaning no ongoing care.

SCHIP is a lifesaver for children with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, sickle cell disease or cystic fibrosis. SCHIP lets them get the treatments, diagnostic tests, medications and care they need. In addition, it offers stability to family life and peace of mind for parents. With this program, parents do not have to choose between medical care for one child and housing and feeding the rest of the family.

Health care advocates are campaigning to save and expand SCHIP.

MoveOn told its supporters this week, “More and more Republicans are talking about overriding President Bush’s threatened veto of health care for kids.” MoveOn added, “This would be the first time Bush has suffered such a major defeat from his own party. And if Congress can beat back Bush’s veto, we’ll take a huge step forward in the fight for health care.”

Online petitions and further information are featured on MoveOn.org, and on the website of the Campaign for Children’s Health Care, www.childrenshealthcampaign.org.

The Medicare changes included in the House bill would cut payments to private health plans and raise direct payments to doctors. Originally, Medicare funded health care provided to seniors by private doctors on a fee-for-service basis. Later, health maintenance organizations (HMOs) were allowed to take over the care of some of those on Medicare. HMOs have been accused of “cherry picking” the healthiest patients, thus cutting their own costs and increasing profits. An HMO’s primary allegiance is to its stockholders; thus, the more care it denies, the happier the stockholders.

Increasingly, many say the real solution to the health care crisis is single-payer universal health care, paid for by the federal government, much like Medicare. HR 676, also known as “Improved Medicare for All,” introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), would enact such a plan to cover all Americans, much as Medicare now does for those age 65 and over. There would be no private insurers to skim off profits, and administrative costs will be cut to a minimum. For more information on universal single-payer health care, see www.healthcare-now.org.

In addition to the online petitions, individuals are encouraged to phone or write their congressional representatives and demand that they override any Bush veto of SCHIP, and sign onto and pass HR 676.

Diane Mohney is a nurse and health care activist in Philadelphia.