Last week, President Bush vetoed the popular, bipartisan, state-federal Children’s Health Insurance Program known as SCHIP; legislation that would provide 10 million low income children – 211,000 in the Commonwealth – access to government financed, private health insurance. The President’s reasoning? He claims the bill is too expensive.
This comes from the same President who, when discussing the state of the approximately 46 million uninsured in our country, declared in July that, “I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.” And when it comes to excessive spending, this is also the same President who is seeking an additional $190 billion for the Iraq war – all to be paid for by borrowing, leaving a legacy of growing debt for our children and grandchildren. For what we spend in Iraq in just 40 days would provide health care coverage for 10 million children for an entire year.
While the President is right that all these children have access to emergency rooms, his declaration is half-baked in terms of public policy. Uninsured emergency room visits impose huge costs on Virginia – not federal – taxpayers and insurance policy holders. Such visits are not free, but in fact are very expensive. In Virginia, the average cost for an emergency room visit for a child with a broken arm is about $4,000. For an insured child, that same ER trip would likely cost around $5 or less. Under SCHIP, for just $3.50 a day, a child is given access to full health benefits – meaning regular check-ups, treatment by a primary physician when the inevitable tummy ache, ear infection, cold or flu occurs, and yes, even emergency room visits when a serious, life-threatening situation arises.
Perhaps more importantly, such a position is harmful to the public health. It goes against what any competent healthcare professional would say, which is that preventive care (i.e., getting regular physicals and going to the doctor at the first sign of a problem rather than waiting till it becomes an emergency) is the best way to stay healthy. Can you imagine someone going to the emergency room for a check-up or physical exam? Probably not, because it doesn’t happen.
Despite the President’s protestations and counter to the way in which he has kept the war in Iraq going, SCHIP would not add a dime to the federal deficit. By raising the tax on cigarettes 61 cents, 4.4 million low income children will be able to join the six million the program currently covers. From the public policy perspective, this has multiple benefits. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a tobacco tax increase of that amount will lead to long-term health savings of $32.4 billion; 669,000 fewer smoking-related deaths; and 171,800 fewer smoking-harmed births in the next five years.
Overriding the President’s veto would have immeasurable benefit for all our children – now and in their future. A failure to override would be a costly message to Virginia taxpayers and our children.