Two news stories really caught our eye this week.First was a study that found the U.S. has a higher child mortality rate than other wealthy nations despite our greater per capita spending on health care for children. The second was news that a stopgap measure to continue funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through March is going to start running out of money next week. Why are our nation’s children suffering compared to other wealthy countries? Our aberrant political environment and economic policies over the last 30 years have resulted in growing economic inequality that hurts everyone but especially innocent children. And now, as noted by Sen. Bernie Sanders, “We have a Republican leadership more concerned about throwing 30 million off healthcare and giving tax breaks to billionaires than worrying about the health of children”.
The medical study published this week examined mortality data for the U.S. and nineteen wealthy comparator nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for children ages 0-19 from 1961-2010 using publicly available data. In 1961, the U.S. had lower child mortality than the other countries. While child mortality progressively declined for all countries over the next fifty years, mortality in the U.S. has been higher than in peer nations since the 1980s. According to the study, “the lagging US performance amounted to over 600,000 excess deaths.”
From 2001 to 2010 the risk of death in the U.S. was 76% greater for infants and 57% greater for children ages 1-19. During the same period, children ages 15-19 were eighty-two times more likely to die from gun homicide in the U.S. because gun homicide is virtually non-existent in the other countries which have much lower gun ownership. Incidentally, our U.S. Representative, Erik Paulsen, has an A+ rating from the NRA and is such a rabid opponent of gun control he has actually voted 13 times to block the “No Fly, No Buy” legislation which would ban suspected terrorists on the FBI’s terror watch list from buying guns.
In discussing the reason for the fact that the U.S. has ranked the worst in childhood deaths since the 1990’s, the study’s lead author, Ashish Thakrar, said “It really seems to be the impact of our fragmented health care system.” Thakrar also pointed to the rise in childhood poverty in the 1980’s that coincided with the United States falling behind peer countries on health outcomes. When we have record levels of economic inequality, children are going to bear the brunt of it.
One way of protecting our children is the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP was created in 1997 and has reduced by half the number of children who are uninsured. It’s been reauthorized by bipartisan majorities of Congress in the past but this year Republicans failed to renew CHIP in September after spending the first nine months trying to repeal Obamacare and then devoting their time to passing a tax bill which will increase the federal debt by $1.8 trillion over the next 10 years in order give tax breaks mostly to corporations and the wealthy. According to the Congressional Budget Office, reauthorizing CHIP for ten years would actually decrease the deficit by $6 billion. Those statistics really clarify Republican priorities, don’t they? Increasing the deficit to fund tax breaks for the wealthy while dropping the ball on healthcare for children somehow seems right to them.
Finally, a month after CHIP had lapsed, the House of Representatives voted to allocate $2.85 billion to CHIP that they claimed would carry the program through March. Erik Paulsen bragged about his vote in a November 3, 2017 tweet. But what he didn’t say was that Republicans insisted on funding CHIP by cutting Medicare and public health programs created by the Affordable Care Act, including funding for prenatal care, children's receiving preventive care, vaccines, flu prevention and combatting the opioid epidemic. In other words, the Republican “solution” was merely robbing Peter to pay Paul. Moreover, it turns out the amount of money they allocated was based on a gross miscalculation and some states are going to start running out of money after January 19. You’d think that Paulsen, who brags about being “a math guy”, would have figured that out.
Shame on Erik Paulsen and his Republican colleagues for treating our children so shabbily. The GOP platform says that the party believes in American exceptionalism -“the notion that our ideas and principles as a nation give us a unique place of moral leadership in the world”. When our society has a level of economic inequality that means our children have a higher rate of mortality than children from other wealthy countries, we have sacrificed any claim to a unique place of moral leadership.
Replace Erik Paulsen.
Minnesotans for Real Representation is a grassroots organization in Minnesota's Third District with the goal of replacing Erik Paulsen in 2018.