Ohio Children Held Hostage by America’s Uncompassionate, Uncompromising President

OhioNews Bureau

ONB COLUMBUS: After the record-setting turnout in the Iowa caucuses tonight, made possible by legions of new energized voters, throngs of independents and even some Republicans converting to Democratic Blue, and with fewer than 382 days remaining until the birth of a new nation starts with the sudden death of the George W. Bush presidency, the prospect of Ohio children, and those of other states, no longer having to battle the uncompassionate, uncompromising and incomprehensible denial of Medicaid coverage that forces the needy into the jaws of private health insurers will cease being a dream and become a reality.

Coming as it did on the heels of the first step in the real race to the White House that played out in the frozen frost of Corn Husker country, this report by The New York Times about the imposition of restrictions by the Bush administration on the ability of states to expand eligibility for Medicaid, as Ohio and other states have proposed, is another example of why America needs a Democratic president who will put Mr. Bush’s harmful policies on the moving van along with his furniture and ship them both back to Crawford, Texas.

Bush’s obstinate antipathy to allowing Ohio to expand the number of uninsured children eligible for government health coverage next year has been simmering for a while, as this article in The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer verifies. Bush vetoed two bills passed by Congress, which decided to just extend the existing children’s health insurance program (CHIP) through March 2009 instead of engaging in a futile attempt to convince enough Republicans to cross over to override The Decider's spiteful veto.

At the core of Bush’s warped notion of compassion is his incessant mania to drive children and families of modest incomes to purchase private health insurance. Akin to the diabolical tactic of the villain in any Spiderman movie forcing Spidy to chose between saving MJ from certain death or saving a crowd of innocents from certain death, so to is Bush’s malicious Medicaid choice. Ohio Governor Ted Strickland is being forced to choose between expanding help to 35,000 more children at the state's expense or saving the state millions by taking Washington’s share of the funding equation for a far small number of children in need.

The Times reported that on Dec. 20th the Bush administration rejected a proposal by Ohio to expand its Medicaid program to cover 35,000 more children. Ohio now offers Medicaid to children with family incomes up to twice the poverty level, or about $41,000 a year for a family of four, according to Robert Pear, who wrote that Ohio had proposed increasing the limit to three times the poverty level, to about $62,000.

Bush’s policy won't allow Ohio to expand coverage to children in families earning above 2½ times the poverty level - or $51,625 for a family of four - unless those states can prove they're already covering 95 percent of eligible low-income children, the PD wrote. Ohio officials say they cannot meet that condition.

A Bush spokesman defended the harsh policy this way:

“We want states to focus on enrolling their neediest population before they consider expanding Medicaid and CHIP to middle-income families. This policy demonstrates the president’s compassion. He wants to direct scarce tax dollars to those with the greatest needs.”

Again, the fear Bush has is that government health programs will start to “crowd out” private insurance when they cover families with incomes from 250 percent to 300 percent of the poverty level — about $51,600 to $62,000 for a family of four, the NYT reported.

Countering the extortion that is Bush’s CHIP policy, Strickland has said he would consider suing the federal government if the state's expansion plan isn't approved.

One Ohio children’s advocate who spoke out about Bush’s misguided and Scrooge-like policy is Mary Wachtel of Voices for Ohio Children, who said Bush “seems to be out of touch with what the public wants.”

While Bush is clearly out of touch with what America wants, America is in touch with what they want, and what they want is a new Democratic president and Democratic Congress that won’t be hamstrung by just enough recalcitrant Bush-loving holdovers to stymie even the most sensible and caring of good government measures.

With tonight’s electrifying turnout in Iowa for Barack Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, any one of which presents a clear alternative to Bush policies and the Republican candidates who proudly embrace their continuation, if states like Ohio an hold out a while longer until November, when voters show their revulsion with Bush policies by entrusting the future of the nation to a new Democratic leader, the real compassion, manifested through new public policies, will bring an end to the era of denial.

John Michael Spinelli is a former Ohio Statehouse government and political reporter and business columnist. He now serves as the OhioNews Bureau Chief for ePluribus Media Journal. Find ONB archives here.

If readers have a news tip or story idea about Ohio politics or government, contact the OhioNews Bureau at: ohionews@epluribusmedia.org

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I feel very strongly that all children should be covered regardless of family income. It's the only way to ensure children have access to medical care should they need it. Just because a parent can afford insurance doesn't mean they'll obtain it. Don't penalize children for parents' behavior.