Could You Explain a Vote Against Children's Health to the Children?
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
For those in U.S. House or Senate inclined to sustain a presidential veto of a bill that will provide basic health care to more than 3 million additional American children, ask yourselves this question: Are you willing to explain your decision to a schoolroom of fragile young children who cannot afford treatment for whooping cough or measles, leukemia or juvenile diabetes? Are you willing to explain this to them, human to human?
The U.S. House voted overwhelmingly for an expanded children's health care program (SCHIP), 265-159. President George W. Bush has said he will veto any expansion of the program, and supporters fear they will fall short of votes necessary to override Bush's veto. And what's Bush's reason for the veto? Well, SCHIP works, and because it works it may lead the nation toward (gasp!) a health care security plan that doesn't measure the nation's health or moral standing by the size of private health insurance company profits.
Bush has a point. If 10 million American children are made healthy through a government managed program, the next thing you know some more of the 100 million or so uninsured or under-insured Americans might recognize that their health has been sacrificed on the altar of a private insurance industry that didn't even exist 70 years ago.
That's right. The property and life insurance industry didn't want to get into health insurance because they couldn't figure out how to make a profit. Insuring houses was a piece of cake. Only a few burn down, after all. And the companies get all those premiums from all those people whose houses don't burn down. Life insurance worked because premiums paid to a company over a lifetime could be invested, earning more for the company than would have to be paid in death benefits. But health? Heavens, everyone gets sick, everyone ages and weakens. Benefits would be paid continually to everybody who paid premiums. Where's the profit in that?
Then the insurance executives figured it out. By excluding the tired, the poor, the sick and the wretched refuse from coverage and by denying claims to those who had purchased coverage, tidy profits could be made. Funny thing is, this was not really capitalism any longer, since it is an industry that makes money by NOT delivering the service it is paid money to deliver. It is not protection. It is the protection racket, and sooner or later all of us get kneecapped. Even the children.
Now closing in on 70, the modern profit-first health insurance industry (Blue Cross started pooling health care payments for Elks Lodges and Lions Clubs in the 1920s; the modern industry was born in the 40s) is nearing the average American life expectancy. Maybe it's time to exclude that industry from the Congressional insurance it purchases with millions in premiums, I mean contributions, paid to politicians. We'll exclude the industry because of its pre-existing condition: cold-hearted greed. (The Rockridge Institute will soon launch its Health Care Security Campaign to thoroughly explore these issues, and you can sign up to be notified when it begins.)
But that possibility is not yet on the table in Congress. The lives and health of three million children are. We're talking about the simple and straightforward expansion of a popular and effective program that Americans of all political stripes and economic circumstances support.
But it appears some members tremble at the thought of defying the most unpopular president in modern American history.
So I return to my question. Are you, our elected representatives to Congress, afraid of explaining to the children that their health must be sacrificed? Would you tell them that once upon a time there was Adam Smith, who revealed the existence of an "invisible hand" and a "free market" that would ultimately make all things right and just even while creating temporary injustices? Or would you tell them that if God has not provided them the resources to treat their illnesses that you, a mere mortal, should not provide what God has refused to give? Or would you say you cannot deny a campaign contributor's demand?
What exactly would you say to that schoolroom of children? How could you explain to them that they will have to bear the illnesses and the deaths of their friends without your help or the help of millions of Americans who are willing to help but who you keep at bay by starving SCHIP?
This is how advocates for SCHIP should frame the issue. The health insurance industry earns its profits by denying adequate health care to 100 million Americans, including millions of children who can't be blamed for their own economic circumstances. To sacrifice the lives of those children to any abstraction about the role of government or the magic of a supposedly free market is immoral and inhuman.
If an elected official cannot muster the courage to explain their anti-SCHIP vote to the children themselves, in a public setting we all can witness, then they must vote for the bill, and, ultimately, vote to override Bush's veto.
I promise it will be much easier to explain yourself to Bush than to children whose lives and health you are tempted to condemn.
Glenn Smith is the author of "The Politics of Deceit: Saving Freedom and Democracy from Extinction." He is a Rockridge Institute Senior Fellow and is director of the Texas Progress Council, a research and message lab in Austin, Texas.