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John Kerry Fights for “KidsFirst” Health Care Plan

by Pamela Leavey

John Kerry addresses the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners today in Washington, DC. The focus of his speech was his “KidsFirst” Health Care Plan. The following is the text of his speech as prepared for delivery and received by The Democratic Daily:

I am deeply humbled by the work you do. Nurses are among America’s greatest heroes — too often unsung heroes.

We might not always say it when we are rushing through the emergency room with a child that has a broken arm; or dashing from the school physical to make it to soccer practice; or when a parent leaves your offices upset with a confirmation that a child has a developmental disability – but we appreciate you. We value you. We are comforted by your expertise and the caring, professional manner that you wrap around us and our families when we seek your services. Give yourselves a round of applause.

The question is whether Washington is going to change the way business is done and give you more than words of thanks – more than applause – and give you the kind of change that helps you do your job.

And if the current leadership in Washington won’t stand with you, the good news is – this is an election year. Let’s make use of it. We need to make your issues the voting issues in our country – and to do that we have to make the every day injustices of our health care system as real for people as the horrific images Katrina left in its wake. Because the truth about health care is more than the faceless, soulless numbers. Any politician can effortlessly recite every statistic about 48 million uninsured Americans, the healthcare premiums increasing at three times the rate of inflation, and the cost of prescription drugs going up over 10% every year. But that doesn’t mean they understand the real human consequences of those numbers like you do.

You understand because you know the frustrations of caring for a crying child who suffers unnecessarily because they didn’t have any access to basic preventative care.

You understand because you deal with the frustration of day after day, hopelessly prescribing medications you know your patients need but families can’t afford.

You understand because you see the frightened look on a parent’s face, wondering if you must ask for proof of citizenship before administering the care their sick children desperately need.

We have the best public health professionals in the world, but the bottom line is our healthcare system is broken. It’s not just that too many pay too much, and too many others are left out of altogether. It’s all the pain endured, the promises broken, the families destroyed – all of which could be cured with a little compassion from powerful politicians who forget they were given that power to serve the people.

The time has come to demand full accountability in Washington to the millions our healthcare system has forgotten. That’s why this year, I’ll be on the Senate floor pushing for KidsFirst legislation to provide health insurance for every single American child.

It is with great pleasure today that we announce the addition of the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners to the growing list of organizational endorsers of our KidsFirst plan. Thank you for this support.

Today, the KidsFirst coalition includes over 20 million people. And we need every one of them ready to fight. We all know what’s coming. Those who sit comfortably atop today’s health care industry will try to scare the public and the press with the same health care horror stories.

They’ll tell us insuring every child means an unwieldy new bureaucracy. They don’t want people to know that under KidsFirst we can insure every child by expanding existing programs like Medicaid and S-CHIP. There is no new bureaucracy, just more coverage and more care for more kids.

They’ll tell us insuring every child will burden states with another un-funded mandate. They don’t want people to know that under KidsFirst, states will save more than $10 billion every year under this arrangement.

They’ll tell us KidsFirst is too expensive. They don’t want people to know KidsFirst costs about the same as the government spends on energy subsidies, including billions in giveaways to big oil. These politicians think making kids less important than oil companies is the right choice, and we need to make sure their constituents know it, so they can make the choice to kick those politicians out of office next November.

We can beat these tired old arguments if we fight hard enough and speak truth to power. And that truth is that covering all kids would reduce avoidable hospitalizations by 22% and replace expensive critical care with inexpensive preventative care. Kids with health insurance do 68% better in measures of academic performance. If kids start getting attention in the medical waiting room, they’ll pay much better attention in the classroom.

But you know what, as much as the cost savings and academic improvement do matter – the bottom line is this: insuring every child is the right thing to do, and we need to get back to an America where doing the right thing is reason enough. The debate over KidsFirst is more than statistics and political tit-for-tat – it’s a values debate we have to win.

We’re the richest nation on the planet, yet one in four of our children go without immunizations, and one in three children with asthma don’t get medicine. That’s why it’s so amazing that all of these Republican politicians have the nerve to run around talking about values. Eleven million kids are suffering precisely because of the absence of real values in Washington. That’s the values debate we need to have in America.

We need to ask where in the Bible it says you should give tax breaks to oil companies instead of health care to children.

We need to ask what kind of values are represented when we know mercury has devastating health consequences for our children, yet the administration ignores key studies and lets big business write the regulations?

Let’s talk about the values choice on kids’ health care. You can insure every child in America for less than it costs to roll back the Bush tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. But Washington chooses the tax break for the few who don’t need it instead of healthcare for 11 million kids who need it desperately. And they lecture America about values. Let me tell you, I think it’s time America started electing people who don’t just talk about values, but who actually value families.

Americans know we need to do better. They know there is no more pressing need than improving health care.

Unfortunately, under this Congress and this Administration, there is a lot of defense we have to play before we get to play offense on the issues that matter most to us. I’m tired of spending all your time trying to prevent bad things from happening and then fixing them when they do, rather than putting our efforts toward moving forward on a positive health care agenda for our nation.

Right now we are in the middle of fighting to fix the devastating changes imposed on the Medicaid program under last year’s so-called Deficit Reduction Act.

We must overturn the rules allowing increased cost-sharing imposed on families that can’t afford it.

We must prevent new rules from tossing out the Early, Periodic, Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment protections for children under Medicaid.

We are called to reverse the law’s anti-immigrant bias that forces health care providers to verify citizenship status prior to delivery of services.

And don’t even get me started on all we have to do to fix the Medicare prescription drug debacle.

I think that’s how they’ve decided they will govern: keep the voice of America’s progressive alliances paralyzed to offer any new ideas or rally support for change if we are always having to defend what we like in the current system and fix the problems they create when changing it.

They underestimate our passion if they think they can just tire us out or make us more cynical.

We can and must do more.

We need to make it legal to import affordable prescription drugs from Canada.

We need to make it legal for Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices.

We need to put medical decisions back in the hands of doctors, nurses, and patients – not insurance company bureaucrats.

We need to address our nursing shortage by fully funding the Nurse Service Corps Scholarship Program, the Nurse Retention and Patient Safety Enhancement Grants, and the Nursing Faculty Loan Programs under the Nurse Reinvestment Act we all fought so hard to enact.

We need to cut health care costs for small businesses.

We need mental health parity.

We need to address our growing childhood obesity epidemic.

We need to reauthorize the State Child Health Insurance Program.

And we need to give families access to the same private health insurance that members of Congress give themselves. It’s time we stood up and made it clear that every family’s health care is just as important as a politician’s in Washington.

But we have to start somewhere. That’s why KidsFirst should be the first health care debate of 2006. To make a stand on health care, let’s start by standing next to America’s children.

Now that we have our coalition built, in 2006, let’s force a vote on KidsFirst. Let’s hold Congress accountable. Let’s bring parents and doctors and nurses together to get this right for our children.

When I first I sent an email telling supporters about KidsFirst, within days over 20,000 parents phoned in recordings of why the KidsFirst health plan is important to their families. I want to read a few of them for you:

Jennifer from Central Islip, N.Y. called in and said, “I have a child who is on medication…that costs me $250 or more a month. I have children who can’t go to the dentist. You know, it’s the worst feeling in the world, as a mother, to know that in order to afford health care; you’re not going to be able to afford the home you live in.”

Jordan from Reading, PA called in and said, “Nalani…my three-year old…was born with cataracts…Eventually chances are she will be blind. Unfortunately, times are really hard in my house and we don’t have health insurance and I can’t afford to give her the surgery that will fix the problem that she has. I just can’t imagine growing up knowing that there was a way that you could have been helped. But because nobody thought you were important enough and because your parents didn’t have enough money for health insurance…you went blind.”

That is what KidsFirst is all about – our families and our children – and they need our action. They need the health care system to start paying attention to kids now. And you can continue to lead the way. When you leave today, call your members of Congress and demand that they co-sponsor this bill. Start a letter writing campaign. Get your friends and neighbors involved. Do whatever you can to make Washington pay attention to America’s children. Keep lending your voice to this fight, and together we can provide health care for every child, and finally do what the American people want – put our Kids First!

NOTE: As a self-employed, single mother with NO healthcare insurance for my daughter or myself, I can attest to how important John Kerry’s “KidsFirst” Healthcare Plan is. The stress and worry that parents without healthcare go through on an everyday basis, is hard for others who are not affected to comprehend. John Kerry gets it. If you haven’t become a Co-sponsor of the “KidsFirst” Act — please do and call Congress and let them know you support the “KidsFirst” Act.

Millions of children across our country go without healthcare — it’s a sad, sorry statement that compassionate conservatives don’t care!

One Response to “John Kerry Fights for “KidsFirst” Health Care Plan”

  1. That’s so true, Pamela. I see the same thing, year after year, with the students in my classroom…ALL CHILDREN need all of us to improve their lives. It’s that old “it takes a village” thing.