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House to Bush: Veto This!

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The House yesterday passed, by a margin of 225-204, the reauthorization and expansion of the State Child Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP). The bill will expand healthcare coverage for children whose families have enough money to be ineligible for medicaid but too little money to have other, privatized insurance. It will be funded by a hike in the tobacco tax that smokers pay when buying cigarettes. Under the bill, four million now uninsured kids will have health insurance starting Jan. 1.

This, of course, is the bill that Bush has threatened to veto because it encourages people to move to government supported health care over the private health insurance market. His GOP peers in Congress have followed his lead: According to Republican Jeff Sessions, “The bill uses children as pawns in a cynical attempt to make millions of Americans completely reliant on government for their health care needs.” Try to stifle your guffaw. This is BS (the kids covered by S-CHIP can’t afford private healthcare anyway) and is a very transparent cover for the tobacco lobby.

What’s getting buried in the discussion of the bill are the changes it would cause to funding for abstinence-only “education” programs. Currently, states that accept federal ab-only dollars are required to use a federal definition of abstinence, which, as you can guess, is pretty stringent (and which requires the state to share lies about, among other things, the failure rates of condoms). The new law would change some of this. According to the Kaiser Report:

Under the bill, states would have the option to accept funds for abstinence-only sex education programs or for programs that promote abstinence and also teach “those who are currently sexually active or at risk of sexual activity about additional methods to prevent unintended pregnancy or reduce health risks.” The bill also would require all programs that receive funding to provide medically accurate information and demonstrate effectiveness in reducing rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections such as HIV.

This is a big deal. Currently, there is no medical accuracy requirement (insane, I know), and states don’t have a choice with regard to how they use the funds. If this bill were to pass (an unlikely prospect given the more moderate version the Senate is due to vote on this week and given Bush’s promise of a veto), the sex ed funding provision could help quietly begin the dismantling of the country’s ridiculously awful (sexist, heterocentric, and just wrong) abstinence only funding streams and requirements.

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