Sunday, November 4, 2007 9:36 AM

Staying Hungry for Health Care and for SCHIP

By Donna Smith, American SiCKO

DENVER – Being hungry for change is not a new condition for any of us who are struggling with the broken U.S. health care system. Many of us have been physically, mentally and emotionally hungry for many years. And no one has changed the conditions causing that hunger for millions of Americans.

But in one program area, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), we seemed to understand all of the issues. Healthy kids are better for the nation. Many parents work but cannot afford insurance coverage. Sick children dying due to lack of health care access that the nation can afford is really bad PR. So Congress passed that reform in the 1990s, and low-income, working-poor families were able to get coverage for their kids.

In recent weeks, Congress has been trying to reauthorize the SCHIP program. The first bill passed and signed expanded coverage to include 10 million kids, but the president and his loyal followers didn’t like that. First they cited worries about pushing families off private insurance, and then later the tobacco tax included to pay for the expansion was cited as just another tax-and-spend initiative. The president vetoed the bill despite widespread public support for the program and its expansion. And Congress did not have the votes to override that veto.

I have to note that on the same day he vetoed the SCHIP bill, George W. Bush asked Congress for $46 billion more for the Iraq war. So much for objecting to spending.

People protested from coast-to-coast. But that protesting has, so far, not made the difference in this battle for the health of our kids.

Now, Congress has submitted yet another SCHIP bill for the president’s signature. They changed a few items, but not enough according to the president. The second version of the bill will likely also be vetoed.

A few of my friends from ‘SiCKO’ and I decided we wanted to take additional action to support the passage of SCHIP, and we decided a hunger strike would be our protest. Adrian Campbell of Michigan, Reggie Cervantes of Oklahoma (9/11 rescue worker) and I began our liquid fasts on November 1, at midnight. We are taking in only water and non-caloric fluids (like broth).

All three of us know the hunger of choosing between health care and food and other life essentials, and each of us still confronts those trade-offs every day even when not fasting. Sometimes people mistakenly think that just because we were lucky enough to be on the screen in ‘SICKO,’ we were actually lifted out of our struggles. Having one’s story told does not in itself fix the problems. We are all hard-working women who are fighters and survivors.

But we’re staying hungry until there is a SCHIP reauthorization. We will break our strike when Congress passes and the president signs a new bill. If they don’t do that before the holidays, we ask them to temporarily fund the program and then go right back at it immediately upon their return. If they agree to do so, we will break this strike. We object to any measure that would simply fund the program at current levels for a whole year without enhancement just to break the government deadlock. The American people – and our kids – deserve better.

What's our stake in this? Between us, Adrian, Reggie and I have nine children and 13 grands. The time has come for mothers to take a stand. And we are doing so.

Our hunger strike will continue until November 21, unless Congress and the president act sooner. The risk we are taking seems like nothing compared to what millions face in our health care system every day, and we pray that our government recognizes that and acts sooner rather than later.

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