WASHINGTON - October 3 –The health and well-being of our children should be a national priority. Unfortunately, today President Bush once again showed our country and the world how little he values families and children with his veto of the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (H.R. 976). This bill, which would have reauthorized and improved the ten-year-old State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and provided more than 10 million low-income children with desperately needed health care, was vetoed by the president. The cruel message to millions of hardworking parents whose jobs don't provide health insurance or wages that allow them to buy private insurance policies is this: if your children get sick or are injured, we really don't care.
"Millions of families, especially single mothers with children, have once again been cast aside by George Bush," says NOW President Kim Gandy. "This was his opportunity to welcome bipartisan legislation ensuring that 6.6 million low-income kids have ongoing health care, and allowing nearly 4 million more low-income children to become enrolled in the state-run programs. For single parents, pregnant women and low-income families just barely getting by, this program has literally been a life saver. No child should go without health care simply because her or his parents are employed in jobs without benefits and there isn't enough money to pay both the rent and the doctor. George Bush's priorities are out of line with the rest of the country; sadly, this is no surprise to those of us who work daily to improve the lives of women and their families."
It is ironic that taxpayers have been assessed almost a trillion dollars on the Iraq invasion and occupation, but have no say about using a piddling amount by comparison to provide a modest $35-$50 billion to expand SCHIP to cover millions more kids. The truth is, for what we spend in a single week on the war, 800,000 children could get health care for a year. A bipartisan majority of both houses of Congress voted for our children's health care, but the veto pen makes final passage an uphill battle, especially in the House of Representatives where the final tally was two dozen votes shy of the 290 needed for a veto override.
While the National Organization for Women applauds the tenacious bipartisan efforts in Congress, which voted to expand healthcare for millions of children, at the same time we are disappointed that the bill failed to support the inclusion of legal immigrant children and pregnant immigrant women. The National Coalition for Immigrant Women's Rights (NCIWR), of which NOW is a member, sought but failed to get support for a final bill that removed the punitive and mandatory five-year waiting period for new legal immigrant children. Although the House bill included provisions from the Immigrant Children's Health Improvement Act (ICHIA), giving states the option to provide immediate health coverage to lawfully residing low-income immigrant children and pregnant women through Medicaid and SCHIP, the Senate insisted that this provision be removed in the final bill.
"It is shameful that our president, who enjoys government-subsidized health care, vetoed the SCHIP renewal, but also that Congress dropped coverage for legal immigrant children in hopes of avoiding the veto pen," says Gandy. "These are hard-working, low-income families, who are legally in this country but cannot afford to buy health care for their children. But they are being ignored and told to wait five years. Without adequate, essential health care, these children and pregnant women face an uncertain future," said Gandy.
NOW will ask Congress to override the president's veto, but we will also continue to fight for real health protection legislation that promotes basic health care for ALL low-income families, including documented and undocumented children, single parents and pregnant women. SCHIP is not perfect, but we believe it is a start.
With a more women-friendly president and Congress after 2008, NOW anticipates — and will promote — major improvements in public financing of health care in our country.