June 29, 2012 in City

Shawn Vestal: Uninsured children might consider emigration

By The Spokesman-Review

A lot of people are threatening to leave the country.

The Twitterverse was alive with people proclaiming that they were so upset over the Supreme Court’s upholding of Obamacare that they were moving to Canada. Rush Limbaugh threatened to move to Costa Rica. This ruling had the critics packing their bags, hypothetically and sarcastically.

“SCOTUS holds up free health care for everyone?!” Tweeted one twit. “Screw this commie country, I’m moving to Canada.”

Some of these people presumably know that Canada and Costa Rica have universal, socialist health care, and are operating at some other level of sarcasm – perhaps mocking liberal threats to leave the country if Dubya got elected. But some of them clearly didn’t see the irony in fleeing to a socialist country to protest “socialism,” and liberals had a lot of fun at their expense.

It was more or less standard political warfare, cheap-shot edition.

But, seriously, there are some people who ought to consider moving to Canada: poor kids in Idaho.

If you’re a poor kid in Idaho – where nearly half of all kids live at 200 percent of the poverty level or lower – your elected leaders have led the fight against getting health care coverage for you and your family. If you’re a poor kid in Idaho, your elected leaders are almost certainly going to continue the fight against getting you health care coverage.

This is true in other places – our own Cathy McMorris Rodgers declared that the Supreme Court won’t have the final word; House Republicans will get that, surely. Rob McKenna, Washington’s Republican attorney general and would-be governor, was one of the AGs who sued over Obamacare.

But there are few places in the country where the political machinery is as unanimously and vociferously opposed to health care reform as Idaho. And there are not many places that could benefit from it more.

One in five Idaho residents doesn’t have health insurance. That’s 294,000 people. That’s Boise plus Twin Falls plus Pocatello – all full of people who are outside the system we use to get a flu shot or have an ultrasound or get your kid’s ankle cast when he falls out of a tree.

Idaho also has an edge in uninsured children. Figures on this vary, but even with an expansion of federal coverage for kids, Idaho’s rate of uninsured children is above 9 percent, according to the Anne E. Casey Foundation. Washington’s is less than 6 percent.

I know, I know: The people threatening to leave the country are also the ones who moan and groan whenever you bring up kids. It is cynical and cheap to mention poor kids, or care about what happens to them. It is tacky. It is also assumed to be completely and fully insincere – employed by liberals who really don’t care about kids at all but are trying to … well, I’m not sure what. Get their hands on the money of the righteous, or stanch the bleeding of their hearts, or something,

You could take the glass-is-half-full view here. A lot of Idaho’s poor and not-quite-poor kids are being covered by federal health insurance. There has been an expansion of so-called S-CHIP coverage, a state-federal insurance program.

Still, if 9 percent of the state’s kids lack coverage, that amounts to 37,721 children. Or think of it this way: Sandpoint plus Burley plus Hailey plus Jerome plus Lapwai.

It is a hardy breed of callousness that ignores 37,721 kids in favor of a shallow crush on the free market and a promise that, eventually, once the fruits of government cuts ripen, the economy will improve, the parents of those uninsured kids will get jobs, and – after the probationary period at that ever-shrinking number of jobs that provide health care ends – those kids’ parents will have health insurance and everything will be fine.

Like other Republican states, Idaho has simply refused to lay the groundwork for the health care reform act. One imagines that this refusal – seen, as it is, by the refusers as a principled, moral stand – will continue.

The effect of this, on Idahoans who need health care coverage and on their kids, is that the potential benefits of the Affordable Care Act, which are considerable, could be delayed. Idaho has done nothing to establish the health care exchange: state-run insurance markets intended to provide more choice, lower premiums and resources for those who can’t afford insurance.

Washington, on the other hand, has done the work, accepted hundreds of millions in federal funds, and is much farther down the road in implementing the wide range of changes. Its exchange will be ready to go, state officials say, by 2014.

Who knows what Idaho will be doing by then? The feds may have stepped in to operate the exchange, fueling the kind of paranoia that drives people to flee for other nations and nourish apocalyptic daydreams. One imagines scenes of Idaho officials, a la George Wallace on the schoolhouse steps, barring the hospital entrances with backup from local sheriffs’ posses.

Meanwhile, if kids in Idaho don’t want to wait around, they could consider relocating. Maybe they can catch a ride with some cranky twits heading north.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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