Pediatricians Chide Bush on Child Health

Accuse White House of displaying 'persistent indifference'

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 29, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A small but influential group of U.S. pediatricians issued a sharply partisan statement Wednesday criticizing President Bush's track record on child health.

At the same time, the group, part of the nonprofit organization Vote Kids, endorsed Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry's "straightforward goal: every child, indeed every American, should have the same affordable health care that is available to every member of Congress and senior government official."

The letter, entitled "Our Children Deserve Better," was released at a news conference and will be running in key newspapers around the country over the next few weeks. It was signed by 36 pediatricians, including six past presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). One of the letter's key points noted that 27 million children in the United States were without health insurance at some point in 2002-2003.

Officials from the Bush campaign headquarters didn't return calls seeking comment.

"Our concerns about the condition of children -- millions in poverty, millions abused, millions without health care, and thousands killed each year in their own homes, their own streets, and the Bush administration's persistent indifference to these conditions -- prompted us to take action," said Michael Petit, president and founder of Vote Kids.

"We need to address the fact that it is simply unconscionable that the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world under the Bush administration has millions of uninsured children. The words 'leave no child behind' ring hollow when so many children are left out," said Dr. Joel Alpert, professor and chairman emeritus at Boston University School of Medicine and past president of the AAP.

The letter, along with statements from various pediatricians at the news conference, bemoaned various aspects of White House policies, including cuts in state health programs.

"In the president's home state of Texas alone, more than 150,000 children of working-class families have been dropped from the State Child Health Insurance Program, leaving them without any insurance," said Dr. Stephen Berman, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and past president of the AAP.

Berman related the story of a teenager who recently came to him with severe diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the body doesn't get enough insulin. The family, it turned out, was not insured and could not afford to pay for the insulin the patient needed. They were denied Medicaid because their one asset, a car, exceeded the allowable amount in Colorado.

"The boy almost died -- and shared with us that perhaps he wished he had died so he would not be such a financial burden on his family," Berman said.

Dr. Judith Palfry, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and past president of the Ambulatory Pediatric Association, spoke about a child with a degenerative disease who was denied leg braces by a private health insurance company because, the company reasoned, he would lose the ability to walk within a couple of years anyway.

"I have seen children, saved in our intensive care units, discharged to homeless shelters because the enormous medical bills have left families without money for rent or food," she said. "The uncaring policies of the current administration are systematically shattering our promise to children."

While Bush's policies and proposed policies were seen as not enough, Kerry's proposed policies were seen as charting the right course. "President Bush's main health-care proposal of tax credits and deductions would decrease the number of uninsured by as little as 5 percent while still relying on market forces proven to be ineffective for dealing with the millions who will remain uninsured," the letter read. "Sen. Kerry's proposal, building on his belief that health care is a right, not a privilege, extends coverage to virtually all children, and ultimately to all Americans."

More information

Learn the Bush plan for health care by visiting the White House.

SOURCES: Sept. 29, 2004, news conference with Michael Petit, president and founder, Vote Kids; Joel Alpert, M.D., professor and chairman emeritus, Boston University School of Medicine; Stephen Berman, M.D., professor, pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine; Judith Palfry, M.D., professor, pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston
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