Sicko' is right: Why did Bush veto SCHIP expansion?

Two years ago this month - while 24-weeks pregnant and in the ugly throes of preterm labor - this busy, Type-A, perfectionist, 30-something was sentenced to strict bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy lest my otherwise healthy baby arrive up to four months early.

The obstetrician's message was clear: Cease and desist all physical activity - immediately - including walking, working, driving, taking care of my 2-year-old, cooking dinner, standing up to turn off the light or take a shower or close the curtains or change a DVD or anything, or risk the birth of a 2-pound infant that may or may not survive outside the womb.

I understand that a nice, long, doctor-ordered holiday might sound like just the thing for the average overworked parent in chronic need of a nap, but believe me when I say that such a prescription, in today's fast-paced, take-no-prisoners society, is not one that brings peace and security to the heart of a working-class mom whose health insurance is conditional on her ability to do said job. This might not have been much more than a minor character challenge except that the reason for the bed rest was, of course, to reduce the amount of the mother's stress; physical, mental and emotional, not to pump up the volume.

Nonetheless, on the second of three hospital admits, the gravity of our situation was sinking in, as were the questions. How would we make this work? Who would care for our 2-year-old while my husband was at work and I laid on my back in the hospital? Who would cook dinner? How would my husband manage his 60-hour-a-week breadwinner career that had, until that point, involved regular out-of-state travel? What if we figured all that out and more and the baby was still born early since it's never actually been proven that bed rest even works? What if she died? What if she survived? Who was going to go to Costco?

Amid all that, the looming question was, absurdly enough, how would I manage to keep my day job as overworked marketing manager at a small nonprofit organization? It was, after all, the only one of our jobs that provided 100 percent medical coverage and was also just what the doctor ordered me not to do.

What about the husband's glamorous corporate career and its juicy benefits, you might ask? Only covered 80 percent. That's right. Eighty-percent of $200,000. Yes, that's approximately what it costs for an otherwise healthy woman and her fetus to endure 12-weeks of treatment for preterm labor in the world's richest country, including regular, multi-week, holiday visits to Seattle's posh ante partum unit at Swedish Spa and Medical Center.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that more than half of all bankruptcy filings in 2001 were a result of medical expenses. Or that one year of health insurance can cost a family of four an average of $11,000, and 45 million Americans lack coverage altogether. Or that the United States ranks 37th in the world for infant mortality and 42nd in life expectancy. Or that the president and a few random Republicans in Congress insist that $7 billion annually over the next five years to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) - policy with bipartisan support that would have doubled the number of U.S. children eligible for coverage - is an expense this country simply cannot afford.

But I'm curious, was it in the cost-benefit analysis that the nation's poorest and most marginalized children lost out? Incidentally, if you're wondering who those kids are, in King County they belong to a group we're euphemistically referring to these days as the "working poor" - families currently making less than $42,000 a year (for four people). That would be your waitress, your janitor, your delivery driver and your elderly neighbor, and they comprise nearly a half-million people in King and Snohomish counties, or one person in every five. Look around, friends.

So, how is it that the president can demand hundreds of billions of dollars for the war in Iraq, but lay down one of only four presidential vetoes over a fraction of that amount being used to provide health care to children? Especially when, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, approximately 72 percent of Americans support it. What happened to those family values we used to hear so much about?

Certainly it's no secret that President Bush prefers private insurance to expanded government coverage. I just can't decipher why. I'm no fan of big government either, but I think it's been made explicitly clear to anyone with a pulse that a private, for-profit insurance program delivered primarily via employment is nothing more than a ratty old bandage slapped on a gaping wound.

Indeed, between one-quarter and one-half of all enrollees switched from private plans to SCHIP when the option became available. Not too shocking since SCHIP was cheaper and provided better coverage than the private plans.

Not to mention the HealthSouth debacle that resulted in one of the largest accounting restatements in American corporate history. Remember founder and chief executive officer Richard Scrushy and the five former chief financial officers that testified against him?

Under his leadership, the Alabama-based corporation that still owns a chain of hospitals and outpatient clinics across the United States overstated earnings by $2.7 billion, inflating the company's stock price and making the big dogs even richer. And that was after the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that requires CEOs and CFOs of public companies to vouch for the accuracy of all quarterly and annual financial reports or risk criminal prosecution for deception.

In fact, despite beating criminal charges two years ago with the always popular I-couldn't-have-known-what-those-rogue-employees-were-doing defense, Scrushy was forced by the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this year to pay $81 million in disgorgement and civil penalties for the endemic accounting fraud that occurred under his leadership and from which he profited handsomely in the form of several homes, luxury cars and high-priced art.
I'm thinking I'd prefer a little government incompetence over massive corporate fraud. Or maybe a little bit of both. How about health insurance for everyone with funding from public as well as private sources? What a concept.

Othello writer Amber Campbell may be reached through[[In-content Ad]]