Everybody who saw Sicko this summer can tell you that health care is a huge issue that’s going to get a lot of attention. Heck, anyone who saw I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry can tell you that (although you probably wouldn’t take them seriously, seeing as how they saw Chuck and Larry). Costs, especially insurance costs, are through the roof and only show signs of getting higher. Calls for a universal health care system are countered with threats of socialism and the debate over spending rages on.
The first big battle of this health care war is upon us in the form of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The program, which provides health insurance for low-income children, is at the center of a showdown between President Bush and Congressional Democrats. A bill expanding SCHIP passed the House and Senate, but Bush has vowed to veto it. He’s not a fan of government-sponsored health care, and he’s not afraid to stop a program for children to prove it. Don’t think that Bush wants little kids to stay sick; he says he supports the program in theory, but doesn’t agree with the way SCHIP is executed.
There are plenty of other critics of the bill; in the House, the bill currently doesn’t have enough supporters to override the veto (although the Senate does). Some take issue with the bill’s new funding plan as the bill will tack on an additional $35 billion to the program over the next five years, funded in part by a substantial 61-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes. Some also argue that the bill will lead to some states (the richer ones) having to pay for benefits that will only help the less affluent states. And Bush shrewdly warns that an expansion of the program could lead to middle-class families dropping private insurance to qualify for SCHIP, shifting the cost to the taxpayers.
Meanwhile, proponents of the bill like the fact that it offers insurance to kids who don’t qualify for Medicaid or aren’t insured. They say its success over the past ten years also shows how effective a government-sponsored program could be. Senate Democrats are also arguing that Bush’s claims about wasteful spending are ridiculous – after all, this is the same guy who’s asking for more money for the Iraq war. Their arguments are helped by the fact that it’s a program that helps kids – the Democrats had a twelve-year-old deliver their weekly radio address (cutest radio address ever) and a group of children marched on Washington to lobby Bush not to veto (cutest protest rally ever).
SCHIP doesn’t have a lot of direct impact for college students (although the definition of “child” in the bill goes up to age 25), but the debate over the bill is setting the stage for the universal health care debate. There are some that immediately jump from that to socialized medicine (which Iowa republican Charles Grassley equated to shouting “fire” in a crowded theater). Still, there are those who say it would help give care to Americans who can’t afford it and would end up benefiting everyone – even the rich folk who don’t want to spend extra money on surgery. The debate is sure to occupy Washington for the next few years, as it’s already become a hot-button issue in the 2008 race.
Even more than the health care debate, this struggle marks a shift towards a focus on domestic issues. This administration hasn’t been big on domestic policies, what with all that stuff with Iraq and Afghanistan and the terrorists. But health care is just one of the domestic issues that still needs fixing; there’s also education, tax reform, social security, gun control, gay marriage, steroids and a whole assortment of other issues. The health care debate could bring the administration back home to the issues that directly affect you.