Click photo to enlarge
A rally was held Tuesday on the Stanford campus for the SCHIP Bill which gives medical coverage to uninsured children who don't qualify for Medicaid. The rally was attended by doctors, nurses, medical staff and students and was part of a larger national campaign. (Victor maccharoli/Daily News)
OAKLAND — Pediatricians in Oakland and 35 other sites across the nation rallied Tuesday in support of a childrens health insurance bill that President Bush has threatened to veto today.

The bill would expand the popular State Childrens Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, by $35 billion over five years to ensure that more children have access to medical care.

A 15-minute, lunchtime protest in front of Childrens Hospital Oakland drew more than 60 pediatric residents carrying signs reading Override the Veto and Dont Make Our Kids Suffer.

It mirrored events held at Stanford University School of Medicine and elsewhere.

For all of us who work so hard to take care of these children, this is very disturbing, said Dr. Gena Lewis, a pediatrician who helped organize the Oakland rally.

President Bush is making this into a political issueand he is leaving children behind, which is shameful, Lewis said.

In California, SCHIP funds the popular Healthy Families program.

Nationwide, it provides health insurance to 6.6 million children whose families are often referred to as the working poor. They earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private insurance.

The bill in question would expand the program during the next five years to cover 10 million children.

The expansion would be financed by a 61 cents a pack increase in the cigarette tax.

Bush has argued that increasing the number of children in the program would broaden the role of government and move the nation toward socialized medicine.


Advertisement

He also has voiced concerns that it could entice people to abandon private coverage in favor of a government-run plan.

Those who demonstrated said they fear the federal program will be eliminated, leaving millions of children without insurance and causing many to do without medical care or to seek treatment in crowded emergency rooms.

The 10-year-old program expired Sept. 30, but funding has been extended through mid-November while federal leaders debate its fate.

Families could be forced to make decisions about whether they spend money on health care or food or clothes or fall behind on their rent, said Dr. Rachel Kreps-Falk, a pediatric resident at Childrens. This could impact the entire family.

Bush has said he prefers increasing spending in the program by a more modest $5 billion over five years.

Critics argue that this would not be enough to maintain existing coverage, much less bring in more children.

Childrens advocacy groups estimate that under the presidents plan, 200,000 to 400,000 children in California would lose coverage by 2008.

Californias SCHIP program, known as Healthy Families, is the nations largest, covering more than 830,000 children.

Lewis encouraged those at the rally to urge their congressional leaders to override a presidential veto. But she acknowledged it will be an uphill battle.

Many experts say a veto could be easily overridden in the Senate, but not the House.

If a veto is upheld, congressional leaders would attempt to compromise on another plan to save the program.

Im fairly surprised that he actually wants to veto this legislation, said Dr. Kishor Avasarala, a Childrens Hospital pediatric cardiologist who joined the Tuesday protest.

It would put a lot of kids into the hole where theyre not covered. Theyll have to struggle to find other resources, which are pretty meager right now.

Contact Sandy Kleffman at 925-943-8249 or skleffman@bayareanewsgroup.com.