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Sasha Abramsky

Sasha Abramsky

Posted: October 25, 2007 05:52 PM

Universal Medi-sense


Listening to NPR this morning, I heard a section on the ongoing fight between President Bush and the Congress about expanding SCHIP and providing health care coverage to more low-income kids.

There's something insane about the fact that a president who vetoed almost no spending bills in the first seven years of his presidency is going to such lengths to prevent an expansion of state-funded health care for uninsured children.

For me, the irony was magnified by the fact that earlier this week I was in San Francisco, at a CenterForce Summit event on prison issues. There, I heard Bob Sillen talk about medical services in California's prisons. Sillen is a federal court-hired receiver. His office was created when federal judges yanked control of medical services inside prison from the state's department of corrections and rehabilitation in 2005, finding the state had tolerated unconstitutional and frequently deadly healthcare services for inmates for far too long.

These days, Sillen has virtually unlimited power to order the department to increase funding for specific services, and to dip into the state's general fund if the correctional bureaucracy fails to come through with the dollars. He's forcing prisons to build new medical units, has gotten the governor aboard a plan to build thousands of beds specifically for sick prisoners, has forced the state to hire more medical professionals and pay them better wages.

So, here's my question: if grossly inadequate medical services for prisoners have been found unconstitutional, and funds have been released to tackle this issue, then how come it's ok to have millions of free-world kids without proper access to quality health-care? It doesn't compute.

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