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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Thursday, October 18, 2007 1:47 PM

Is This Really Our Government? Not On Your Child’s Life

Gregory Hampton, 15, of Denver, won't have proper health coverage. He's one of our 'good' kids -- great grades, works a job and helps care for his siblings while both parents work. And he's my grandson. How do I explain to Gregory that he isn't worth our best efforts? I won't. But I will fight to my death for his future. He deserves my best.

By Donna Smith, American SiCKO

DENVER -- So, President Bush vetoes the State Children’s Health Insurance Program expansion and Congress fails to override that veto. So this is our government? No, it is not. It may be the insurance companies’ government and the health care profiteers’ government, but it sure as hell isn’t mine.

This government tries to protect life in the womb but devalues that life once a child is born and fails to provide basic health care for working-class children. That’s not my government.

This government doesn’t value my work ethic or my determination to provide for myself. Since I am among those classified as the “working poor,” I can fend for myself for health care coverage. That’s not my government.

This government does an awful lot of finger-pointing about who’s to blame for what but never watches out for my health care needs. It’s a weak Congress. It’s a bumbling administration or worse – it’s a selfish one. That’s not my government.

This government wants working parents not to have enough money to buy homes or new cars or other consumer goods because they must pay huge premiums for sub-standard health care and coverage. That’s not my government.

This government is full of those claiming patriotism and love of family while ignoring families sinking into economic ruin due to health costs and coverage. That’s not my government.

This government is full of those proclaiming love for humankind while failing to protect even the youngest and most vulnerable in our own society. That’s not my government.

This government is full of Bible-thumping Christians who display judgmental and cruel tendencies very opposite what the Christ I learned about would ask of us. That’s not my government.

This government will not change and will not represent its people because it is built on arrogance of self rather than being of and by the people. And that’s not my government.

This vote today has made me more angry and more determined than ever. This is not just about the kids, fellow Americans. It is about what we collectively need to say to these people we elected. And if they cannot and will not hear us – as they demonstrated today – then we must clean house. Top to bottom, Repubs and Dems, out the door, to the curb and back to the people.

I have had enough. I have been ignored enough. My vote and my taxes have been abused enough. My voice matters. I am an American woman with a brain and a heart and a God. And I want my country back.

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