An Unfair Starting Line

Several people have mentioned the new numbers released from the Census Bureau. And, yes, the number of uninsured has increased from 44.8 million in 2005 to 47 million people in 2006. This increase is not a surprise or a change in trend. The rising uninsured rate is not new news. Here is new news. Since 1999 the number of uninsured children had been steadily dropping. However, this year marked the first year in which the number of uninsured children has increased – by 600,000 children to 8.6 million.

What? We are leaving 8.6 million children without health coverage! So let’s cut the program that is responsible for insuring over 4 million children. That makes sense. That is what the administration is threatening. Let’s dismantle welfare policies. It is only making people dependent on the government and undermining their self-reliance. If the government got out of the business of providing, people would stand up, take care of themselves, and be responsible and productive members of society. Right? But doesn’t that rationale demand that all people start at a fair starting line. That society evens the playing field somewhat – at least at the beginning – so that all people have a fighting chance. Is not that the idea behind a universal, free and public education? All children should have the tools that come with a basic education so that they can compete. I would argue that health care is crucial to providing that fair starting line. All children need a basic level of health in order to attend that free and universal education. All children need that basic level of health care to prevent more serious issues as adults. All children need a basic level of health care so that they are all starting at the same starting line.

I will tackle the larger issue of the 40 or so million uninsured adults in the future. But at this point I want to point out the hypocrisy of the administration’s rhetoric. The administration is asking that certain children – mainly the working poor – start the race many steps behind their peers. I don’t see how that provides fair competition.

Please take a look at Paul Krugman’s Op-ed from 8/27, “Socialist Plot,” as he makes this argument pretty forcefully. Again, you need that pesky Times Select membership.

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2 responses to “An Unfair Starting Line

  1. The thought that all children in America have the same starting line in education is still just a dream that we as a public are trying to achieve. When children begin their school career they do not begin evenly, because they are going into different school environments – some more conducive to an individual child’s education than another. And every child comes to the education from a particular environment – some environments have done more to prepare that child than others. And some children come to that educational environment with a healthy mind and body, and others do not. In actuality there is no “same starting line” in education. Having basic health care for every child would actually move us closer to that ideal. Health care could eliminate some of the disadvantages with which many children begin school.

  2. I’m all for ensuring that children are not the victims of irresponsible parents, whether their neglect is due to insufficient/inadequate nutrition, lack of medical care or improper supervision. But let’s not assume that because parents don’t secure health insurance for their children that they’re unable to do so, suggesting that we (the government) need to give it to them for free. Within existing government programs and laws (e.g., Medicaid and child neglect laws), there are already protections for these potential victims of either parental indigence or parental neglect.

    Parents are, by law, responsible for the welfare of their minor children. Let’s not be changing this social contract in such a way that parents’ freedom to raise their children is impaired. We don’t want to be saying, “Parents, we’ll be assuming the responsibility for your children’s welfare.” And let’s not be shifting the burden of parenting to society as a whole. More than ever in today’s era of readily available birth control, parenting is a choice. Yes, many parents are irresponsible when they make that choice but they, not society, should bear the primary burden of that choice. Government’s job then is to ensure that their offspring are not punished when the parents fail to fulfill their parental obligation. Does that mean providing insurance for all uninsured children? What next? Free meals for all children to ensure they’re well fed? Free housing to ensure they’re sheltered? No, there are more efficient ways to achieve this objective while still ensuring that parents retain their primary role as the ones who are ultimately responsible for providing these services to their kids.

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