Grassley votes against expanding children's health care

The U.S. Senate voted 66-32 yesterday to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). All of the no votes were Republicans, including Iowa’s own Chuck Grassley. He was ready to sign every blank check for George W. Bush, but when it comes to expanding the safety net for families lacking health insurance, he’s Mr. Deficit Hawk.

Senator Tom Harkin issued this statement about the bill:

Renewal of the program will allow Iowa’s HAWK-I program to enroll 11,000 more Iowa kids

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today released the following statement after the Senate passed legislation that will allow states to continue to provide basic health insurance to kids whose parents cannot afford private insurance, but who do not qualify for Medicaid. The State’s Children’s Health Insurance (SCHIP) Act, known as HAWK-I in Iowa, passed the Senate by a vote of 66-32.

“Hundreds of thousands of Americans are losing their jobs each month, which means more working-family kids are at risk of losing health care coverage. The passage of this bill means more of those parents won’t have to worry about whether they will be able to afford their son or daughter’s next doctor’s appointment,” said Harkin. “Extending health insurance to 11 million children from working families is not about ideology, and it is not about left or right. In a humane society, no child should go uninsured. I am proud that this is one of the first bills that we will pass in the new Congress because it is a great example of what we can do when we work together.”

Talk to anyone who works in the office of a pediatrician or family doctor. During a recession, families cut back even on checkups and other doctors’ visits for their kids.

Thousands of people are losing jobs (and in many cases health insurance) every month. Unemployed people rarely can afford to pay into COBRA plans:

The cost of buying health insurance for unemployed Americans who try to purchase coverage through a former employer consumes 30 percent to 84 percent of standard unemployment benefits, according to a report released yesterday.

Because few people can afford that, the authors say, the result is a growing number of people being hit with the double whammy of no job and no health coverage.

In 1985, Congress passed legislation enabling newly unemployed Americans to extend their employer-based health insurance for up to 18 months. But under the program, known as COBRA, the individual must pay 102 percent of the policy’s full cost.

“COBRA health coverage is great in theory and lousy in reality,” said Ron Pollack, whose liberal advocacy group, Families USA, published the analysis. “For the vast majority of workers who are laid off, they and their families are likely to join the ranks of the uninsured.”

The good news is that despite the misguided ideology of Republicans like Chuck Grassley (and Tom Latham and Steve King), thousands more Iowa families will be able to gain coverage for their kids through HAWK-I. We’re a long way from the universal health care reform we need, but this is a step in the right direction.

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More on the health care crisis in the U.S.

A few posts down I mentioned a report from Families USA about how many Americans die prematurely because they lacked health insurance. Someone from that organization was kind enough to send me the link to the full report referenced by the Des Moines Register (pdf file).

The press release that accompanied the report is after the jump. Here is a particularly depressing excerpt:

* Families USA estimates that nearly three working-age Iowans die each week due to lack of health insurance (approximately 140 people in 2006).

* Between 2000 and 2006, the estimated number of adults between the ages of 25 and 64 in Iowa who died because they did not have health insurance was more than 800.

* Across the United States, in 2006, twice as many people in that same age category died from a lack of health insurance as died from homicide.

Of course, the media coverage devoted to homicides far exceeds the coverage devoted to people who die because they lack health insurance.

Here’s hoping that when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have their next debate, journalists allow them to talk about health care and other issues.

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