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Ahlin: Mary Contrary wonders about near-poor children and health care?

My stop at the grocery store was impulse. Truth was, I had a sudden craving for raspberries and cream. As I got out of my car. I was imagining the tasty treat and paid no attention to a sign near the automatic door. Unfortunately, I heard a familiar voice.

"Hey, Sunshine, aren't you going to weigh in on my question?"

There stood Mary Contrary behind the sign, which said, "Do Near-Poor Children Deserve Health Care?"

"So what do you think, Sunshine? Yes or no?"

"I'm in a hurry, Mary. I'm just stopping for raspberries and cream and have to get right home."

"So you're like the Republican House and Senate folks who are too busy to reauthorize the CHIP program?"

"What are you talking about, Mary? "

"The Children's Health Insurance Program and a passel of Republicans—including North Dakota's own Hoeven and Cramer—who had time to add $1.8 trillion bucks to the national debt with tax cuts for fat cats but didn't have time to fund health care for near-poor kids."

"Come on, Mary, are you being fair? They'll get around to it. Why, health care for children seems like a no-brainer." I paused and added, "Besides, hasn't CHIP always been a bipartisan issue?"

"In the past, Sunshine." Mary shook her head. "It's pretty sad. Repubs want to cut Medicare and public health to pay for re-upping CHIP. Dems won't go for that since Repubs didn't even pretend to have offsets for their tax giveaways to big corporations and rich guys." Her eyes narrowed. "If parents make too much to be on Medicaid but can't afford insurance, their kids are out of luck. It's like we're telling them they don't deserve health care."

"That's pretty harsh, Mary. Maybe there aren't many children affected."

"Really? Like in 1997 there were 10 million uninsured kids and with CHIP that dropped to 3.3 million by 2015...a percentage drop from fourteen to four and a half per cent?" Mary sniffed.

"That includes several thousand kids in North Dakota."

"Okay, you have a point. Certainly one big problem medical providers have is that children who don't get vaccines and routine care end up in the emergency room. And that's really expensive. If low income parents can't pay the ER bills, the provider makes up the loss by charging other people more."

"It's the old cutting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face deal." Mary nodded her head. "Same thing with pregnant women in lots of states like Minnesota who get maternal and prenatal care through CHIP. They'll be the first to lose out."

"Well, it is sad to see a program so bipartisan and so effective for 20 years treated that way."

"Yup, Sunshine, CHIP is fast becoming nothing more than another political poker chip."

"I've got to get going, Mary."

Her voice followed me into the store. "From where I'm standing, it looks like you better stick to raspberries and skip the cream."

Goodbye, Mary.

Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum. Email