It is an oft-repeated dictum that the measure of a society is in how it treats its most vulnerable members. I couldn't help but think of this idea today when President George W. Bush vetoed a bill to expand SCHIP, the federal program that helps the states to provide healthcare for uninsured children.
This is only President Bush's fourth veto in nearly seven years as president, so it's clear that he feels strongly about the veto. The White House issued a statement in which the president argued that the veto was necessary because the expanded program would cover more children, even those children whose parents can afford to provide health insurance for them.
In fact, the SCHIP bill that Congress sent to the White House would expand the number of children eligible to receive government-paid healthcare. Most of those children live in families at or below the poverty line (just under $20,000 a year for a family of four). Expansion of SCHIP would make more children, especially poor children, eligible for assistance. In my mind, whether or not their parents can afford insurance is not the issue. Fact is, most parents will scrimp and save to provide healthcare for their children. Those who can't must live in total fear. And in a nation of luxuries and millionaires, where the average household owns more than 2 automobiles and we throw away food every day, there is no excuse for ignoring the healthcare needs of our children, no matter what we think of their parents.
When my son broke his leg, I had a lot to think about. From the serious (was the break crippling? would he walk and run again?) to the mundane (how would I wash a child in a full leg cast? could I carry him upstairs?) I had plenty to worry about. But I have health insurance and so I didn't have to worry about medical bills or finding a qualified doctor to attend to his needs. I had the luxury of taking those things for granted.
When you consider that 40% of Americans work for employers who don't provide health insurance and that many of those employees are at the low-end of the pay-scale, it seems clear that we must fully fund SCHIP. Now.
Not a single one of us would refuse to feed, care for and love a needy child who suddenly landed on our doorstep. Many of us would move heaven and earth to care for the children in our lives. Maybe it's because I am an unabashed liberal; maybe it's because I think we should care for children. But no matter the reason, I am utterly convinced that the expansion of SCHIP is a moral imperative.
For now, the battle for SCHIP will return to Congress, where a two-thirds vote of the House and the Senate could override the president's veto. The Senate already has the necessary votes. So the focus of the struggle will be on the House, where fifteen votes are needed to save the program's expansion. Please find out of your member of Congress supports SCHIP (the nice folks at www.truemajority.org can answer that question for you). If they don't, let them know that they should.
Doing right by our children is the measure of our society. Let's pass the test with flying colors.