President Bush has not directly commented on filmmaker Michael Moore’s SiCKO and it’s devastating critique of the U.S. health care system. He doesn’t have to.
The President made clear which side of health care progress he’s on when he recently stated his intention to veto a Senate bill to increase funds for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The bipartisan bill proposes to put another $35 billion over five years into a program designed to help families who cannot afford health insurance but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.
There are currently about 4 million children enrolled for health coverage under SCHIP. There are also an estimated 10 million children in the United States without any health insurance. But what is George Bush concerned about? He fears more government money for the health of uninsured children would hurt the private insurance companies. "When you expand eligibility, you’re really beginning to open up an avenue for people to switch from private insurance to the government," says Bush. In the spirit of Ronald Reagan, who in the early 1960s saw Medicare as a step toward totalitarianism, the President warns that increased funding for children’s health is a path to full-blown government health care.
Actually, it would be nice if that were true, but it’s not. The Senate bill would still leave millions of children uninsured, as the New York Times acknowledged in its July 22 editorial. But it’s also ironic that Bush frames his opposition to the Senate bill in such ideological terms. After all, the President does support funding SCHIP, if only at a rate that increases funding by $5 billion over the next five years. So maybe the real lesson here is that government-run health care is okay with Bush as long as it’s never quite adequate health care. Because with inflationary health costs, the President’s proposed funding level will translate into even more children abandoned to the land of the uninsured. In California, say some officials, an estimated 200,000 children may be dropped from the program next year under the current funding limits.
Listening to the President, you just have to ask: What is so damn holy about insurance companies? Should their profits always take precedence over children’s health needs? Or maybe it’s just that the President is concerned about the cost to government? But what’s an extra $35 billion over five years for children’s health when compared to the $8.4 billion a month the Iraq war now costs the United States? Indeed, the $5 billion SCHIP currently receives annually in federal funds equals only about three weeks of the war’s costs.
But perhaps the President is also concerned about the bill’s proposed excise tax on cigarettes? Actually, considering that next year’s military budget is $499 billion (this doesn’t even include the Iraq and Afghanistan war budgets), taxing consumers who smoke hardly seems necessary. Even less necessary when you consider the potential resource in reversing the decline in corporate taxes, from 33 per cent of collected federal taxes in the 1950s to less than 8 percent today. But you get the feeling here it isn’t the consumers the President is concerned about. After all, we do know former Surgeon General Richard Carmona recently told Congress the Bush White House pressured him to not give the tobacco companies a hard time by testifying about the dangers of secondhand smoke.
Irony seems to bleed from everything this President espouses that has anything to do with principles. Bush cautions the public about the dangers of government health care, while recovering from his own first-rate, government-paid colonoscopy. Bush sings hymns to the power of free-market solutions, but does nothing while market forces create a nationwide crisis of affordable health care. If unemployment reached 20 percent, which is the percentage of children in Texas without health coverage, it would be called a Great Depression. But we live in times when dynastic corporate families run the country based on the implicit notion that in this life there are winners and there are losers. And if you can’t afford competitive health insurance, well, then, those who were born with a silver spoon in their mouths do officially "care" about you, but they also know you’re just one of the losers. All 46 million of you.
In her new book, The Real Wealth of Nations, cultural historian Riane Eisler cites research that the cost of just one U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile could feed 50 million children or open 340,000 health centers. Now put that thought in the context of last year’s study by economists Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz that estimates the eventual direct and indirect costs of the Iraq war will exceed $1 trillion and possibly reach $2 trillion, assuming U.S. military operations continue in Iraq until 2010.
Just imagine what could be done for American health care with even a fraction of the money wasted in Iraq. Instead, nearly one in seven Americans go without health insurance. Instead, the vitality of the health care system is defined less on humanitarian terms than by quarterly indicators, stock trends, CEO mega-salaries, and patients who are called "customers." It’s a telling contrast: While affordable care is increasingly elusive, health care companies are a hot sector for venture capital investors, outpacing all other industries according to the San Jose Business Journal.
In the United States, many of the 10 million children without health coverage could be covered under SCHIP, but are not either because their state doesn’t participate or has finance-driven enrollment caps, or because families are not aware of their eligibility. Certainly the medical care children receive can be critical to their health over a lifetime. But where there is only human need the President sees a dangerous political precedent.
Why do we put up with a leader whose SiCKO ideology blinds him even to the most basic needs of children?
Mark T. Harris is a writer from Bloomington, Ill. He is a featured contributor to "The Flexible Writer," fourth edition, by Susanna Rich (Allyn & Bacon/Longman, 2003) Email: TheEditorPage@aol.com. Website: www.Mark-T-Harris.com.