There is no problem with access to health care in this country, says GWB. Why, if you need to see a doctor you can just go to the emergency room.
I have been thinking all afternoon about health care, remembering when we scrounged our own pathetic high-deductible health insurance. I am remembering the night I walked the floor with my oldest child while he screamed. "Better bring him to the emergency room," said the nurse manning the 24-hour helpline. "He sounds miserable." I knew it was an ear infection; I knew he needed care. But did he have to go to the ER? Could we make it until morning with Tylenol and TLC? I paced; he screamed. I cried; he screamed. I prayed; he drifted off to sleep. We saw the doctor first thing in the morning, but I will never forget the tension in his feverish little body while we waited for the pain reliever to kick in.
I am remembering the Saturday that my second son gashed his head on an end table, and how I hated myself for thinking, "If we don't get it stitched, how much of a scar will there be? If we do get it stitched, how much of a bill will there be?" A friend had just paid a thousand dollars for an ER repair of a very similar injury. A thousand dollars -- it took my breath away.
Here in the land of opportunity we think that poor must mean lazy or irresponsible. If you would just get a better job, you could have health insurance. If you would just plan better you could afford your medical bills. But I have a different perspective on that than I used to. While my husband was working toward an academic career, I wanted children and I wanted to be with them full-time. I didn't complain about our little house in a dicey neighborhood, or about the rattly car that was entering its third decade of operation. When we decided to live without a car, I didn't complain about walking. I could cook you lentils every night for three weeks without repeating a recipe, because lentils were 44 cents a pound and I bought a lot of them. We had no debts and we had no complaints. Or almost none. You know what was hard? Health care.
Toward the end of our time without health insurance, I sold an essay about it. One of the published responses said, in essence, "Quit kvetching and get a job." I tried to shake it off, but I felt ashamed: maybe I shouldn't complain. Maybe I should have put the kids in daycare to give them health insurance.
Almost five years later I have a job (two, actually), and I have health insurance, and I have an even stronger conviction that our existing system is rotten. I reject categorically the idea that the vagaries of the health insurance industry should dictate whether people can pursue their dreams. If you want to stay home with your children (or start your own business, or try to make it in the arts, but this post is specifically about coverage for children), I think it is preposterous that health insurance premiums -- the requirement that we put more money in the coffers of for-profit agencies so they can refuse to pay it to the providers who render the actual services -- would be the thing holding you back. Anybody who has priced individual health insurance policies or faced a medical bill without any insurance discounts can tell you: this system just doesn't work very well for individuals. If you want affordable health care, you need the clout of a group behind you. Like an employer's health plan, or Medicare. Or SCHIP.
I cannot even think about President Bush's threat to veto SCHIP without gnashing my teeth in apoplectic fury. Health care for children is a social justice question. "As ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me" -- would Jesus tell sick children to suck it up? would he say that their parents should just work harder and get better jobs? "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" -- the burden of paying for children's health care is one I am happy to take up.
That's what I told my representative today, and I'd like to encourage you to send yours a similar message if he or she voted against the measure. Every time I get an EOB from our insurer, I say a little prayer of thanks that we have coverage now. I will never forget the feeling of dread I had in those days when a child was sick or injured. Would he be okay? And would we be able to afford the bill? I hate knowing that there are mothers going through that every day, and I hate that GWB is telling them blithely that the emergency room is the solution.
Let's tell him he needs a better fix than that.