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Mr. President, don't forget healthcare

PRESIDENT BUSH proudly said in his State of the Union address, ''The whole world now knows that a small group of extremists will not overturn the will of the Iraqi people."

Nice line. It would be really cool if you could say that about the United States.

You could say this about any number of issues, ranging from our own presidential elections to taxpayer-funded sports stadiums rammed down the people's throats even after -- in several cities -- the people were against them. Perhaps the worst of all among these is healthcare.

At the beginning of Bush's first term, 75 percent of Americans told a Harris poll that they do not get the health and medical care they need. By 2003, 79 percent of Americans said in a Washington Post/ABC News poll they support healthcare coverage for everyone even if meant raising taxes.

The poll asked, ''Which would you prefer: The current insurance system in the United States, in which most people get their health insurance from private employers, but some people have no insurance, OR, a universal health insurance program in which everyone is covered under a program like Medicare that's run by the government and financed by taxpayers?"

Universal healthcare won, 62 percent to 33 percent.

Getting even more specific, a 2003 Pew poll asked people if they favored the government ''guaranteeing health insurance for all citizens, even if it means repealing most of the recent tax cuts."

Universal healthcare won, 67 percent to 26 percent.

You would not have known that from Bush's speech. He spent vast portions of his hourlong address on Social Security or Iraq. He spent two sentences on healthcare. In those two sentences, he wheeled in a gurney loaded with generic prescriptions and cures, but many of his so-called prescriptions are already impossible to fill because of Iraq and tax cuts.

''To make our economy stronger and more competitive, we must make healthcare more affordable and give families greater access to good coverage and more control over their health decisions," Bush said.

''I ask Congress to move forward on a comprehensive healthcare agenda, with tax credits to help low-income workers buy insurance, a community health center in every poor county, improved information technology to prevent medical error and needless costs, association health plans for small businesses and their employees, expanded health savings accounts and medical liability reform that will reduce healthcare costs and make sure patients have the doctors and care they need."

This is the same president who wanted to cut nearly $600 million in federal low-income healthcare assistance to Massachusetts alone, a crisis that took a bipartisan effort by Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy and Republican Governor Mitt Romney to recently avert. As Bush prepared to address the nation Wednesday, financially strapped county commissioners for the Tampa area voted to slash eye and dental care for the poor. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that up to 200,000 low-income children may lose health insurance in the new Bush budget.

The same day Bush gave his State of the Union address, the medical journal Health Affairs published a study that said Americans, more than ever, are one icy fall or one malignancy closer to bankruptcy. The study, done by researchers at Harvard University, found that 28 percent of people who file for bankruptcy cite illness or injury as the primary cause. That is 11 times more people than those who blame bankruptcy on alcohol or drug addiction and 23 times more than those who blame gambling.

The study said the results indicate that about 2 million Americans and their children now experience medical bankruptcy. Most debtors own homes and are working or middle class. Most had health insurance. But it was not enough after they either lost jobs or were swamped by payments their insurance did not cover.

The problem only promises to worsen as 5.2 million more Americans joined the ranks of the uninsured under Bush, raising the number of uninsured to 45 million. Nothing has happened as the profit-grubbing medical lobby of pharmaceuticals, insurance companies and the American Medical Association threw their financial support solidly behind Bush in the last election.

Anything Bush proposed on healthcare in his State of the Union address is offset or more than offset by cuts he did not announce. As Bush brags about Iraq, a small group of lobbyists continues to thwart the will of the American people. Given what the people want, the lobbyists are extremists.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is 

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