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Morning Cuppa Bush’s Misplaced Health Priorities

kitty cupGeorge Bush’s misplaced priorties were on full display this past week when he again threatened to veto health care coverage for millions of children unless Congress gave in to his demands to protect the insurance industry from competition from SCHIP’s public funding.

But while he and his wannabe Republican replacements railed against government health programs, his Administration was simultaneously using government control to overrule doctors’ medical advice to preclude medically necessary cancer treatments.

Bush threatens to veto the compromise SCHIP bill, worked out by House and Senate conferees from both parties because (1) he thinks it costs too much ($35 billion more versus the $5 billion Bush has offered) and (2) it might encourage some with private insurance to use the publically funded SCHIP program. In his weekly radio address, Bush accused the Democrats of being “irresponsible” and “playing politics” and then claimed:

“Our goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage — not to move children who already have private health insurance to government coverage.”

The cost argument is a little hard to swallow when Bush repeatedly asks (and gets) far more than this bill provides to wage unnecessary wars. And the argument that private programs should not face competition from a succesful low-cost public alternative is little more than an argument in favor of subsidies and preferential treatment — not exactly consistent with principles of private market competition the Republicans claim to support.

I’m sure the insurance industry is relieved to hear Mr. Bush is so concerned about their profits that he’d jeopardize health care for millions of children, but I think everyone else in the country thinks the priority ought to be providing health care to all children who don’t have it today, and to do so in the most effective way possible.

The compromise bill would extend SCHIP coverage to another 4,000,000 children, repeal the punitive restrictions issued last month that prevented states from expanding its scope; it also phases out some coverage for adults and focuses more attention on those least likely to afford alternative insurance programs. But the possibility that some families might switch from private insurance and all its hassles to a successful public program has the Bush Republicans petrified.

We’re facing another bruising battle. The key votes on the SCHIP renewal and expansion will occur this week, with Congress planning to send the bill to the President just before the SCHIP program ends on September 30. There will be a fight to get a veto-proof majority in both houses and then preserve it after the President’s expected veto. Senator Dodd and others are urging Republican governors to support the bill, but they’ll need our help too in calling Congress. We’ll have more info about calling Congress later this week.

Meanwhile, George Bush, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney et al. claim they fear the prospect of “government-controlled health care,” but it doesn’t seem to bother these Republicans when the federal government tells doctors that their presribed cancer treatments — such as chemotherapy — for those who must rely on Bush’s emergency rooms are not medically necessary and won’t be covered by the feds.

Under a limited provision of Medicaid, the national health program for the poor, the federal government permits emergency coverage for illegal immigrants and other noncitizens. But the Bush administration has been more closely scrutinizing and increasingly denying state claims for federal payment for some emergency services, Medicaid experts said.

Last month, federal officials, concluding an audit that began in 2004 and was not challenged by the state until now, told New York State that they would no longer provide matching funds for chemotherapy under the emergency program. Yesterday, state officials sent a letter to the federal Medicaid agency protesting the change, saying that doctors, not the federal government, should determine when chemotherapy is needed.

For Bush and his wannabe Republican replacements, government sponsored care is a menace to be restricted, even when it ensures health care for millions of children. Nor can government encourage insurance companies to cover costs for essential H.I.V. screening, even though recommended by the Center for Disease Control. But government control is just fine when used to screw poor people and immigrants out of necessary health care prescribed by their doctors. It’s all entirely consistent if you don’t really care about providing health care.

Photo: His favorite espresso cup, from josesh27566’s photostream

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley