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Sick sense

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I was a sickly kid. Although a robust toddler—I stayed at home and thus avoided the Petri dish of pre-school—from kindergarten through sixth grade I was plagued not only by the garden-variety childhood diseases of chicken pox, strep throat and bronchitis, but also such odd ailments as scarlet fever; head-to-toe poison ivy contracted from hiding in a hedge row; and even measles, as I had the misfortune of receiving a bad vaccine.

Despite those puny seven years, I was lucky. My father worked for General Motors, and thanks in part to the United Auto Workers, which fought for employees' benefits, my family was well insured. The co-pay, if any, was cheap, as were antibiotics, injections and X-rays.

Unfortunately, millions of children in the United States are uninsured—and likely to remain that way if President Bush carries out his threat to veto a reauthorization and expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). As Gov. Mike Easley pointed out in a letter to North Carolina's congressional delegation, the reauthorization, the cost of which would be funded by a 61-cent a pack increase in the tobacco tax, would generate an additional $186 million for the state to cover 91,000 more uninsured children.

You would think that for federal lawmakers to fund insurance for low-income children would not require a letter from the governor. But it did. Before we lay the untreated fevers, coughs—or worse, childhood cancers—solely at Bush's feet, we should also call out U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, a Democrat whose district includes much of Chatham County and part of Wake. He was among eight House Democrats who voted against the federal child health bill. Yet in Chatham County, according to N.C. Action for Children and UNC statistics, nearly one-third of all children are enrolled in a government-subsidized health plan; another 12 percent are uninsured. In Wake, the breakdown is 23 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

(News flash: Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Elizabeth Dole also voted against SCHIP.)

Many of SCHIP's opponents contend the program will lead us to socialized medicine. Horse-hockey. SCHIP targets only the roughly 4 million uninsured kids who already qualify for subsidized coverage but aren't receiving it. Socialized medicine has been portrayed as the pinko bogeyman that will devour U.S. health care. Yet, The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg recently pointed out that while Medicare spends just 2 percent of its revenues on administrative costs, private insurance companies spend 15 percent. The U.S. health system is broken, and the primary reason is not government programs.

When I developed scarlet fever, my doctor was puzzled because it seemed to be a relic from the 19th century. So is denying health insurance to children.

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