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Everything I need to know about SCHIP I learned from a mechanic

Submitted by on Thursday, 15 January 2009 No Comment

I don’t know which scared me more the day I swerved my Ford Escort off the freeway just in time to see the engine ignite: The flames shooting from the hood or my stepdad’s predictable reaction.

A mechanic by trade, he long had been frustrated by my air-headed automotive habits.

He had a point. All I knew about cars was get in, turn the key and go. Fill up with gas once in a while.

Turns out, it’s a good idea to fill up with oil occasionally, too, otherwise pistons melt and you wind up walking along a freeway looking for a phone so you can call for help. You pay a $150 towing bill – that was real money back in 1986, especially considering I made only $225 a week as a reporter – and $300 for parts.

The labor was free, except for the ego-deflating cost of the lecture.

“I’ll tell you one damn thing,” he said, eyes bugging out like they always did when one of us had screwed up real bad. “I hope you’ve learned your lesson about changing the oil. Pay now or pay later.”

I’m thinking my stepdad needs to head to D.C., bug his eyes at congressional Republicans and tell them one damn thing about children’s health insurance: Pay now or pay later.

It’s perplexing to me that the party of fiscal responsibility doesn’t grasp that basic concept when it comes SCHIP, or State Children’s Health Insurance.

The program lets states offer coverage to families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private insurance. Currently, 4 million children participate, and the expansion the U.S. House approved today would take that to 11 million.

Since they’re compassionate conservatives, they’re all for it in theory. “Republicans are committed to reauthorizing SCHIP in a manner that puts poor children first, which is the original intent of the program,” GOP leaders wrote President-Elect Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to The Hill.

Their gripes: The 61-cent-a-pack cigarette tax increase that would pay in part for the expansion and the end of a five-year waiting period for legal immigrants to sign up.

The version of the bill the Senate will work on starting today doesn’t include ending the waiting period, and that’s likely to be an issue in final negotiations.

From a theoretical perspective, the cigarette-tax point is valid.  If you want a cause-and-effect relationship between children’s health and a product, tax chips, cookies and junk juice. But given that we already tax cigarettes to pay for everything from early-childhood programs to water quality, what’s one more thing?

As for complaining about the end of the waiting period: Well, pay now or pay later.

Pay now for a generic antibiotic – $15 or less if you have insurance, $60 if you don’t – to ease an infection or pay when the family opts for expensive emergency-room treatment after a child’s ear drum ruptures in the middle of the night.

Pay now for asthma maintenance medications – $25 or $30 if you have insurance, $100+ if you don’t – or pay after an attack lands a kid in the hospital.

Pay now for a checkup – free if you have insurance, hundreds of dollars if you don’t – that can flag a serious problem early or pay thousands for heroic treatment that might be too late.

It won’t just be the families paying, either. It will be all of us.

We’ll pay in reduced access to health care as increased costs of caring for the uninsured sink some hospitals.

We’ll pay more for our own care as other hospitals shift charity-care costs expenses to the few remaining paying patients.

We’ll pay as states either cut services or raise taxes to cover federal shortfalls in programs such as SCHIP.

And all because compassionate conservatives want to punish people in this country legally.

This position will play well to the set that opposes all government money “wasted on foreigners,” as if legal immigrants don’t work and pay taxes For that matter, some illegal immigrants pay taxes. They’re actually profitable for the Social Security system, because they pay in but never draw out.

Popularity and prejudice side, I’m baffled that the party in favor of running government like a business can’t see the folly of the ban.

My hillbilly stepdad could, and he has only a high-school education.

Pay now or pay later.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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