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Using the Children
Grotesque health-care politics in Texas


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A recent e-mail from the Children’s Defense Fund, a leading lobby in the push to expand government-subsidized health care, asks its state coordinators to send “stories of children who have died because they did not have access to adequate health coverage” and adds that “a picture of the child to include with the story” would be especially valuable.

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This kind of shameless trolling for victims is nothing new — although stories of death accompanied by photographs of the victim take the tack to a new low.

Opposing these tactics should not be construed as an attempt to gloss things over. The death of a child is always tragic, but the real issue is a logistical one: whether the government can provide the quality of care that our growing population will demand. There is much to say against the government solution and its promised inefficacy, but the substance of policy takes a back seat to emotion so long as the Left has been able to hijack the debate and pull at heart-strings.

Trafficking in tragic anecdotes, offering other people’s sorrow as a sacrifice at the altar of bigger government — these are nasty habits of America’s left-wing advocacy groups. Faced with the prospect of looking insensitive, it is a rare day when an elected leader is brave enough to call out the Left when they stoop to such lows.

In Texas, for instance, a debate rages in the legislature over whether the state ought to continue asking enrollees in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to reapply and prove their eligibility every six months, or move to a 12-month period of enrollment. It is a small but important struggle in the effort to hold growing welfare programs at bay. But the health care–industrial complex (doctors, hospitals, and health plans) has joined forces with liberal advocacy organizations, with the aid and comfort of the media, to convince all but a handful of Republican legislators that government is the answer. 

CHIP enrollment criteria may seem a dull component of a larger health care debate, but it has sparked fireworks in Texas. Months ago, as dubious anecdotes became the Left’s exemplar of political rhetoric, Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst defended the shorter eligibility period noting that most Texans don’t have “a lot of sympathy for someone that can’t fill out a two-page application every six months.” In past weeks, when pressed by reporters to defend his position, Dewhurst said — in what the media characterized as a “meltdown” — that the issue “has been made up by zealots and magnified the press.” Judging by the Left’s media campaign, Dewhurst’s assessment was accurate.

The Children’s Defense Fund e-mail plainly admits this effort is intended to influence the policy for the country. The procession of victims is likely coming to a state near you, if they aren’t already in full force soliciting victims and stories of despair. Their plan will sit nicely with congressional leaders who have already laid out an agenda for growing government in the name of children, beginning with expanding CHIP through federal reauthorization this year.  They will no doubt be eager to fall in line behind these macabre profiteers as they march to socialized medicine under the banner of dead kids.

No doubt the Left will dig up tragic stories of disease and death, and demand that we accept their correlation to government spending. We will need to suspend disbelief that cancer will be eradicated and children will stop dying if only the government will spend enough. Moreover, we will have to do all this without a truth test, instead trusting that these advocates have made the factual determination confirming government funding was responsible for a child’s tragic death. These advocates will be the arbiters of truth in evaluating the merits of these claims and presenting us with the stories to which no policy-maker will dare ask for proof.

The Left will sell this as a way for families to tell their stories so their loved one hasn’t died in vain. But they will exploit the family’s sorrow by plastering the family picture around to sell their brand of big government radicalism and foster false hopes that the government’s health care program will be better and end death and disease.

It is shameful to try to use a family’s grief for any kind of political gain. But it is hard to fight sensational emotion.

Perhaps we should fight their strategy with our own campaign to tell stories of success, of people working hard and making good decisions for their family, of people who made something out of nothing, or who turned something into more. Yes, send me your stories of success, of personal responsibility, and of government’s depredations on a family trying to make ends meet.

Oh, and pictures of your kids would be nice.

 – Mary Katherine Stout is the vice president of policy and the director of health-care policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit, free-market research institute based in Austin.



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