Leaving children behind again

President George W. Bush has picked the wrong fight by vetoing the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and has neglected the needs of millions of children.

Kelsey Kudak

Among other errands yesterday was a trip to the pharmacy. Looking at the prescription I’d handed him, the pharmacist said, “OK, it’ll be about ten minutes.” I took a gander at the produce section, and after ten minutes and the purchase of two navel oranges, a bag of honeycrisp apples, and a small pumpkin, I returned to the window of pillboxes and prescribed medications.

“Kelsey, are you not insured, then? We have no policy on record for you,” he inquired.

I produced my Blue Cross Blue Shield card and policy number and after another transaction and a few entries into the computer, the mistake was remedied.

I am, however, one of the lucky ones who has such a card. There are another 47 million people without health insurance in the United States – a number that has been rising steadily over these past years. The American Cancer Society reports that while Minnesota has the lowest rate of uninsured individuals at 8.5 percent, on a national level, fewer than half of parents earning less than $40,000 per year are offered health insurance policies through their employers. This number becomes more alarming as premiums rise at a rapidly more significant rate than annual incomes: respectively 87 percent vs. 11 percent. One-third of families in the United States have problems with their health insurance, or have found themselves in medical debt.

More importantly than these numbers, though, are the people within the families. Most families are not only comprised of only Mama and Papa Bear. While they might be the policy holders of a family’s health insurance, Brother and Sister Bear complete and fill the tree house. In other words, of those 47 million individuals who are not covered by any kind of health insurance in the United States, 8.7 million of them were children in 2006. This is appalling.

Children without health care have no means with which to change their own situation, and typically live with someone who can do very little to produce a remedy either. Seventy-five percent of children without health insurance live in a home with someone who works full time. Thus, a lack of health insurance cannot be blamed on the laziness of mom and dad, but on the excruciating means by which insurance is obtained. It pains me to know that parents put off the doctor only because of an outrageous resulting bill.

But kids get sick. They fall from trees and break themselves. Sometimes a hacking cough is strep throat instead of a head cold, and an overdose of orange juice and vitamins will not suffice as remedy. My older brother was prone to ear infections and my younger has a severe allergy to dairy and its derivatives. I had glasses by age 9 and a fractured femur at 11. These are common ailments for kids and I cannot think of what might have happened had my family not been insured. Thousands of other kids are allergic to peanuts and have asthma and accidentally burn themselves on the stove or slam their fingers in doors. What happens, then, when their families cannot afford to provide insurance?

Brilliantly, the federal government has aided in the reduction of the number of uninsured children. The Economist reported that because of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which is 70 percent funded by the federal government, the number of uninsured kids has dropped by one third since its beginning in 1997. The program provides health insurance to some 6 million children who are above poverty level but whose families’ incomes are out of reach of healthcare policies. Organized to each state’s individual needs, but funded primarily by a federal tax on cigarettes, the program expired on the Sept. 30.

Its reauthorization was easily passed by in both the House and the Senate with large majorities from both the Republicans and Democrats alike. The proposal was a $35 million increase per year (raising the cigarette tax to 61 cents per box) over five years to cover the cost of rising policies and widen the network of eligible families, therefore decreasing again the number of uninsured children in our country.

Ten years after its beginning, our president has vetoed the program’s reauthorization, forcing Congress to scramble for an override. After authorizing a six week extension of the policy, House representatives must now convince opponents of the bill to vote otherwise.

President George W. Bush reportedly vetoed the bill because it seemed to be dangerously shifting the focus away from poor children and toward a universal health-care policy. But, I ask, why is this a bad idea when there are still children without proper health insurance? This bill does not focus on the health of the parents of these children, but the children themselves – children who do not have a political vote nor the ability to contribute monetarily toward their health. Poor or above the poverty line, children cannot fend for themselves and take out their own insurance policies if their parents are unable to provide one.

As this bill is only the fourth veto of his term, Bush has picked the wrong fight. He claims a desire to leave no children “behind.” But health insurance cannot afford the facade of another utopian policy. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program is making tangible progress. Bush’s choice would not only incite the program’s end and cause a regression of policy, but it devastates millions of families and children across the country.

Kelsey Kudak welcomes comments at [email protected]