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A Blind Eye to Health Care

January 18, 2002

Indications are that health care will be the buzz of the chat show circuit this weekend. Anyone who believes that a decent society must take care of its children might watch the talking heads closely and ask: Who's cynically spinning and who has a solution?

Lately, most Beltway politicians have either been ignoring health care or using it as a hammer to knock down opponents in an election year. Take, for example, the way in which GOP leaders and some Democrats swiftly excoriated Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) after he suggested this week that $350 billion of President Bush's $1.3-trillion tax cut be postponed so that money could be found to help Americans get health care. Listen this weekend for harrumphing that Kennedy is dividing the Democrats and ending the era of bipartisanship--not to mention raising taxes.

In fact, Kennedy's specific plan to trim future tax breaks for families earning more than $130,000 a year may not be politically feasible. But his call for Bush and the Congress to pare down at least some tax breaks makes a lot of sense. So do some other bold ideas for providing proper health care for the needy.

If the politicians screaming bloody murder would get outside the self-referential Beltway and talk to GOP and Democratic governors, they might be startled to find a growing prairie revolution in favor of at least one reform: helping states expand the Children's Health Insurance Program to cover not just children from poor, working families but also their parents. This is more than a bleeding-heart entitlement for adults. Study after study shows that when low-income parents have health insurance, they're far more likely to make sure their kids get care too.

Governors see the suffering of those who go untreated. They realize that an expanding uninsured population is putting already precarious hospitals on the brink of bankruptcy and forcing counties like Los Angeles to risk insolvency just to keep their emergency rooms open.

In the last few months, Bush himself has approved requests from the governors of six states to expand the program to cover adults. He has not, however, set aside money to help struggling states afford the expansion. On the contrary, last October he actually proposed taking $11 billion out of the existing children's program and using it to provide health coverage to workers displaced by the September terrorist attacks.

Perhaps newly enlightened Beltway pols could set him straight. As a presidential candidate, Bush deemed health care access for all working families ''a goal worthy of our nation.'' But in recent months, as more doors than ever have slammed closed on those Americans, he and many of his Washington colleagues seem to have forgotten that promise. Instead, they are posturing for the coming election, using glib caricatures to blame one another.

Watch for that on the political talk shows on television this weekend. Then pick up your pen or telephone and let these politicians know what you think of "leaders" who dodge responsibility for something as crucial as health care.

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