Wednesday, October 10, 2007

health care

Count me really disappointed with the president and his decision to veto the SCHIP bill that Congress just sent him.

The bill, which Bush rejected on the grounds that it would cost the government too much and potentially would extend health benefits to people who already can afford them, was one with broad bipartisan support. From reports I've read, it had the support of some 44 state governors, many of them Republican; and also had the support of well-known conservatives Sen. Orinn Hatch (R-Utah). Hatch said Bush's decision was based on wrong numbers about the cost and relied on bad advice.

I'm disappointed. About 12 percent of families nationally can't afford health care for their children, and thanks to this veto, they still won't be able to get it, except for trips to the emergency room.

Just a quick and easy example, close to home: Evangeline requires weekly allergy shots that (thankfully) are covered by our policy through Natasha's employer. Because the shots are administered by a nurse and not by a doctor, there is no co-payment. (A doctor's visit costs us a $15 co-payment.) Insurance also covers the cost of the shots themselves, so these weekly visits cost us nothing more than gas and time.

Take insurance out of the question, and the picture changes drastically. Nurse's visits cost $21 a week, the allergy shots themselves cost a few hundred dollars per bottle -- she needs three different sorts of shots -- and the specialist we saw to get her allergies diagnosed correctly cost a couple hundred dollars as well.

I can't afford to pay that out of pocket. So what do I do? I listen to Evangeline coughing desperately late at night, watch her suffering through the day at school, and pray to God she doesn't get really sick, because then the only option before me is to take her to the emergency room, the sort of health care President Bush used to justify not expanding SCHIP.

It gets even worse if she's sick. Back in January, it seemed like I had taken Evangeline to the doctor's office at least six times for a nasty, persistent cough. At $100 a visit, that's $600, plus more out-of-pocket for antibiotics and heavy-duty cough medicine, all because it never occurred to the doctor until January to send her for a chest X-ray, where we learned that she had undiagnosed pneumonia.

Try paying for all that out of pocket.

Of course you wouldn't; you'd avoid taking your child to the doctor's until you were desperate for something to help, with the result that your child would be even sicker, infecting more children, missing more schooltime, and keeping you or your wife home from work, thereby exacerbating your financial situation.

That's not what I call a health care solution.

I suppose I could buy insurance privately, right? For a family in our state, with two children and an annual income of $41,300 -- that's about what we make -- the cost of a policy just to insure the children is about $5,000. That provides no coverage for prescriptions, and it only allows visits to a very small group of doctors. If the child has a pre-existing condition, like Eowyn's allergies, the insurance won't cover it for 12 months. So I'm still burning money on something other people take for granted.

By the way, that $5,000 figure is for two boys. Apparently, if I have two girls -- which I do -- that policy would cost $5,400. (These figures are courtesy of a column in the Star Ledger.) For the whole family, insurance could cost more than $12,000 a year in Iowa. I'd love to know how you feed a family, pay the rent, and take care of other utilities on the remaining $29,000.

Keep in mind that these costs are going up as insurance providers seek ways to boost their bottom line to impress the shareholders; health insurance premiums are up 78 percent since 2001. A number of small businesses are dropping health benefits, and even large employers are requiring greater employee contributions to their health plans. It's just getting too expensive to provide health benefits.

I can't find the exact figures right now; my understanding is that the Bush veto means that a number of families in New Jersey that have been eligible for NJ FamilyCare (our state's version of SCHIP) will not be eligible now because of projected cost increases. In other words, the veto isn't just keeping the program from expanding, it's forcing the program to drop people from the rolls.

As to the torture issue, I'll note that one doesn't generally seek legal advice or counsel out of idle curiosity. It's used to set policy. And given this administration's inclination to setting aside rules it disagrees with -- something it has been chastised for, not just in the public arena but in the legal system as well -- I am disappointed in the existence of these memos. It does not bode well for our nation that a sitting attorney general would opine in his official capacity that we have the right to engage in waterboarding or the other behaviors described in the NY Times article.

If Sen. Clinton (or Sen. Obama, my choice) becomes president and extends the domestic spying programs, I say shame on her too. I don't see the Vulcan logic in giving up my freedoms to protect my freedoms from people who want to take them away, and I find it disappointing that the administration has engaged in this behavior.

"Those who surrender their freedom to gain security will have and deserve neither." -- Ben Franklin

For a man who set out seven years ago to forge a path for "compassionate conservativism," Bush has beat down a different trail entirely. The legacy he's going to leave is not a compassionate one, nor even a very conservative one, from what I can tell.

If I had to guess at his motivations, I'd say he's probably trying to reduce federal expenses on the one hand, and probably believes he's bolstering our security efforts on the other.

For the first matter, I think the priorities are wrong; on the issue of torture -- and I can't see that simulated drowning is anything but torture, as with the other practices described -- I hold that it's morally unconscionable for a government to practice such acts, no matter what its motivation, and I also cite the arguments of Sen. John McCain, R.-Arizona, who has pointed out repeatedly that any "intelligence" gained from such actions is useless.

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