Tancredo Exploits Children’s Health For Political Gain

You can measure Congressman Tom Tancredo’s hatred of illegal immigrants by his willingness to exploit children.

So when Tom Terrific went after a law expanding health insurance coverage for children of the working poor, he reached a pinnacle of cynicism. Tancredo opposes a bill expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, because it might extend services to the kids of undocumented immigrants.

I suspect Tancredo’s call for an ID check in the SCHIP bill has much more to do with the Congressman’s flagging nativist campaign for president than it does with the potential that “real” Americans will be denied health care while undocumented people get treated.

“The problem with the new bill is that it removes safeguards,” Tancredo spokesman T.Q. Houlton told me Tuesday. “It will encourage more illegal immigrants to come here. The program is now up for grabs.”

Up for grabs by whom?

“It’s a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Edie Sonn, a spokeswoman for the Colorado SCHIP Coalition. “We used to talk to hourly employees at hotels and laundries. We’d tell them, ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re documented, if your child was born here, they’re an American citizen, so sign them up.’ None of those people would do it. People who come here illegally are scared to death to take advantage of programs.”

Even ones for which their kids qualify.

Tancredo, meanwhile, is talking about kids who are here illegally.

“Removing the ID requirement will simply make the (SCHIP) program more susceptible to waste, fraud and abuse by persons who are here illegally at the expense of U.S. citizens,” the Congressman insisted in a statement.

But the Congressman has not documented any level of abuse by those children getting health care.

Recent reports which have measured the savings of increased ID requirements to Medicaid, the government-subsidized health insurance for the poor, showed no cost savings for excluding illegal immigrants, said Elizabeth Arenales of the Colorado Center for Law and Policy.

No similar study has been done for SCHIP that Arenales knew of.

But the idea that there is great abuse of the system by children who are undocumented is a mirage.

“We’ve never identified that undocumented people are a problem in Colorado,” the Center for Law and Policy’s Adela Brennan said of SCHIP and Medicaid.

Actually, the idea that treating children of any background for medical conditions is bad turns the concept of health care and abuse upside down. For Tancredo, it’s a self-serving interpretation that plays fast and loose with the lives of innocents who have no more control of their presence in the United States than they do of contracting a case of the flu.

That doesn’t seem to matter to Tancredo as he claws for some traction in a presidential campaign that seeks to exploit fear of foreigners.

Houlton could not tell me his boss’ alternative to the expansion of SCHIP, which pays for care for children whose parents make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to afford regular health insurance premiums. It’s all about keeping the ID check.

By that measure, if the ID check stayed in, Tancredo should support SCHIP expansion.

Only he doesn’t.

“Democrats are looking at the reauthorization of this entitlement program as an opportunity to move us toward a taxpayer-funded, government-run, socialized health care system,” Tancredo said in his statement.

President George W. Bush has threatened to veto the SCHIP bill if it passes both houses of Congress.

Tancredo and Dubya both think the bill takes away money from the private sector that would otherwise be able to provide better and more economical health care for kids. That, of course, is an empirically proven lie.

What stinks about all of this is the willingness of politicians to make pawns of children in a failed system that does as much to make insurance executives rich as it does to make people well. It is one more example of medicine practiced to promote income instead of healing.

Tancredo’s tangent of immigrant-bashing is gravy for conservatives trying to stop the delivery of decent health care to Americans. Conservatives in the House of Representatives have already glommed on to the bad foreigners idea to gain strength to attack SCHIP. Tancredo, meanwhile, has gotten his nativist agenda back in the headlines.

Proof of the stupidity of this approach is only as far away as your nearest hospital emergency room. There, doctors must treat the sick, regardless of ability to pay and regardless of legal status. The cost of that care gets passed on in the form of higher health insurance premiums and fees for those of us lucky enough to have coverage.

Here’s what Tancredo forgets as he tries to exploit children in behalf of an ultimately doomed presidential campaign:

The laws of this country eventually mandate medical treatment. But human decency and our claim to a civilized society also require it. The problem is that America is in a self-destructive cycle where paying for health care will eventually kill us all with its runaway costs, if not untreated illnesses.

So Tancredo can rant his nativist rant. And Tancredo and other private-sector advocates can keep trying to put corporate profits before public interest.

Emergency room care will still remain the most expensive and least efficient form of health care.

That’s true for the children of undocumented immigrants. But it’s just as true for everyone else.

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Jim Spencer

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