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the Daily Camera (Colorado)

Veto Funding for Children's Health Care? What Could You Be Thinking?

John J. Sweeney and Mike Cerbo

The single most compelling reason to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program is also the simplest: it's the right thing to do. In America, every child should have a fair shot at growing up to be an astronaut, a ballet dancer, a firefighter, or president of the United States. No child should be forced to give up these dreams because of health problems that could be managed or even prevented with proper care. In America, every child should have health care.

If that's not a good enough reason to vote to override President Bush's veto of full funding for children's health, there's also a powerful fiscal argument. Prevention makes good economic sense. In today's twisted health care marketplace, it's about the only thing that does.

So it is hard to fathom why Bush vetoed legislation that would retain health coverage for the nearly 6 million children already enrolled in the State Children's Health Insurance Program - including nearly 50,000inColorado- and expand coverage to millions more.

At most, Bush says he will sign legislation that contains not a penny more than the existing level of funding for children's health insurance. At today's level, some children who have health care through SCHIP would lose their insurance and none of the remaining 180,000 uninsured kids in Colorado would get covered.

Bush's veto comes at a time when fewer and fewer employers are offering health coverage to their workers and increasingly, those who are offered health insurance at work can't afford to buy it. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that health insurance premiums rose at nearly double the rise in either workers' wages or inflation.

There are virtually no reasonable policy arguments for not extending coverage through SCHIP families like these. The State Children's Health Insurance Program has been a success.

The health status of those enrolled in the Children's Health Insurance Program has improved. That fact has implications any fiscal conservative should appreciate. Children with coverage are having fewer asthma attacks and therefore winding up in the (expensive) emergency room a lot less. No surprise there. Prevention works. Studies have even shown that children enrolled in SCHIP saw a notable improvement in school performance and attendance. As the president who promised to "leave no child behind," Bush knows that for education to make a difference in the life of a child, that child has to be healthy enough to show up for school and pay attention. An educated workforce is vital to today's information economy.

The economic list goes on. Medical costs are responsible for as many as half the approximately 1 million personal bankruptcies filed each year. Businesses lose productivity when working parents have to stay home with sick kids. Today's unhealthy child is, without intervention, tomorrow's chronic disease patient.

These fiscal realities beg the question of why President Bush chose to veto health care for children while millions of working families live one broken bone or asthma attack away from financial ruin or worse. The fact that children's health care is a good investment for the country should fit right in with his ideology. Perhaps he is concerned about the impact the State Children's Health Insurance Program will have on insurance CEOs, who might lose a few million.

If that's the case, it's time the President get his priorities straight. Kids should see a family pediatrician regularly instead of whoever happens to be on call at the Emergency Room when someone's sick. They should be helped to get healthy and stay healthy, not just treated when it's too late. Children are our future and more of them are uninsured than ever.

John J. Sweeney is president of the AFL-CIO. Mike Cerbo is executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO.

© 2007 Daily Camera

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