Victims of a Veto

Bush’s rejection of SCHIP hurts America’s poor

President Bush made clear his lack of commitment to the health care crisis last Wednesday when he vetoed the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). In a country where the number of people lacking health insurance rose in 2006 for the sixth year in a row to 47 million–almost one in six Americans–and the number of uninsured children stands at 8.7 million, this veto is inexcusable.

SCHIP was founded in 1997 to help provide subsidized insurance for poor children. As the number of uninsured adults has climbed in the past decade, SCHIP has helped cut the rate of uninsured children whose families’ incomes are less than double of the federal poverty level from 23% in 1997 to 16% today. The proposed expansion of SCHIP would have added an additional 4 million children to the 6 million already enrolled, cutting the number of uninsured American children nearly in half. Although SCHIP isn’t perfect–a recent study revealed that almost a third of eligible children are not yet enrolled in the program, suggesting that more targeted publicity is necessary–President Bush ignored the plight of millions of uninsured children by vetoing the bill.

The President, in only his fourth veto in nearly 7 years, claimed that the proposal would be too expensive and might encourage those families covered by private insurance to switch to the governmental program. The former is simply a reflection of Bush’s misplaced fiscal priorities, the latter a statement of his lack of concern for working families and his irrational hatred for the public sector. A program such as SCHIP, designed to save families money on health care, cannot be criticized for achieving those goals.

Bush also took issue with the possibility–one the bill’s authors deny–that the expansion could benefit families earning up to $83,000 annually, saying, “That doesn’t sound poor to me.” Bush’s statement reveals more about his callous disregard of the realities of working-class America than it does about flaws in the SCHIP program. For large families who lack employer-provided health insurance, even $80,000 may not be sufficient to cover healthcare costs. Congress must override Bush’s veto to help provide increased coverage for America’s most vulnerable children.

But SCHIP is a mere band-aid for a health care system that is fatally flawed. Americans spend twice as much as other developed countries for health care–about $7,000 per person per year–but lack the high quality of care and system efficiency of many other industrialized nations. Wealthy patients receive far too much care (and the increased amount of care results in lower quality of life); the uninsured receive none. One researcher estimates that the United States could save 30% of its health care costs if conservative (but effective) practices were adopted nationwide; another organization approximates national savings due to a single-payer health care system at $350 billion per year, more than enough to insure all Americans.

These deep-rooted flaws mandate that the United States’ health care system undergo a complete overhaul, with the goal of universal health care coverage in a single-payer health care system. That goal will remain frustratingly elusive until “socialized” medicine loses its stigma in our society.

Nelson Mandela once said that “a nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.” Unfortunately, the American health care system currently leaves our lowest citizens out in the cold.