Bethesda Naval HospitalIn the upcoming battle to overturn the President’s promised veto of the SCHIP bill, Bush and his Republican supporters are claiming the SCHIP moves too far in the direction of “government controlled health care,” while some Republicans are calling the program “socialized medicine,” which they assume is the equivalent of saying “boo!” to America’s uninsured children.

SCHIP supporters deny these claims, but you get the sense they’d rather focus on providing health care for the 10 million children, 4 million presently without health insurance, who will benefit from SCHIP.

But SCHIP supporters have nothing to fear from this childish name calling. And it’s not merely because the charge of “socialized” health care is nonsense; it’s also because there are varying degrees of government sponsored health care that are well established and accepted in the United States. The right wing know-nothings just don’t want to acknowledge what we already know but forget in the political debates.

In a recent New York Times op ed, The Socialists Are Coming! The Socialists Are Coming! Philip Boffey distinguishes the types of health coverage in America and finds an array of models from fully privatized to fully socialized, but with several hybrids in between.

No one has the nerve to brand this country’s purest systems of “socialized medicine” — the military and veterans hospitals — for what they are. In both systems, care is not only paid for by the government but delivered in government facilities by doctors who are government employees. Even so, a parade of Washington’s political dignitaries, including President Bush, has turned to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for checkups and treatment, without ideological complaint. Politicians who deplore government-run health care for average Americans are only too happy to use it themselves.

Nor are they eager to tar the vast array of government hospitals and clinics that serve our nation’s veterans. For one thing, the veterans’ hospitals, once considered a second-rate backwater, now lead their private sector competitors in adopting electronic medical records and score well for delivering high quality care at relatively low cost. Even when the veterans’ hospitals were rightly criticized this year for their part in the disgraceful failure to care adequately for soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was no clamor to junk or privatize the system, only demands to make it better. . . .

The country’s vast Medicare program is one step less socialized — a “single-payer” program in which the government pays for the care and sets reimbursement rates, but the actual care is delivered by private doctors and hospitals.

So where does SCHIP fit in?

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or S-chip, was denigrated by one Republican congressman this week as “a government-run socialized wolf masquerading in the sheep skin of children’s health.” It might better be thought of as a “double-payer system” in which the states and the federal government put up the money, the states take the lead in defining the program and the actual care is typically delivered through private health plans by private doctors and hospitals.

Government-supported health systems are widespread and widely accepted in America. And the President and his family (and Congress) take advantage of a highly socialized health system run by the government. Purely private systems, in which individuals pay directly for heath care provided by private doctors/nurses, in purely private care facilities are not the general rule, let alone the preferred choice of those who govern us.

So when the President and his Republican supporters try to frighten Americans about the evils of “government-sponsored” health care, let alone “socialized medicine,” while he and his family personally benefit from excellent care from one of the most socialized systems in the country, they’re talking through their well cared for, government-provided hats.

Photo: Bethesda Naval Hospital Tower