OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Health care advocates urged members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation Wednesday to help override President Bush's veto of federal legislation to expand a children's health care program that serves thousands of Oklahoma children from low-income families.
At a state Capitol rally, a coalition of ministers, physicians and Democratic lawmakers said Bush's veto of a $35 billion spending increase for the popular State Children's Health Insurance Program will prevent thousands of children from becoming eligible for the program and could end benefits for some already enrolled.
“Millions of poor children need a safety net and don't have one, said the Rev. Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister in Norman. As he spoke, supporters held signs that read “Bush vs. the Kids and “Bush Blocks Kid's Health.
Dr. Katherine Scheirman, a retired Air Force colonel and former chief of medical operations for the Air Force in Europe, called Bush's veto “cruel and vicious.
“It's unconscionable that our country allows that sort of thing happen to our children, Scheirman said.
Oklahoma currently receives $70 million under the federal program that provides health care to an average of 67,000 Oklahoma children each month, according to Jo Kilgore, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. But about 148,000 Oklahoma children do not have health care coverage.
Last spring, the Oklahoma Legislature passed the All Kids Act, which would allow families making up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for government health care assistance and expand health care to an estimated 42,000 more Oklahoma children, Kilgore said.
Earlier this month, Bush vetoed legislation to increase spending for the program by $35 billion over five years. Bush said the increase was too costly and called for a $5 billion increase.
Democratic leaders in the U.S. House have scheduled a veto override vote for Thursday.
State Reps. Al Lindley and Anastasia Pittman, both Oklahoma City Democrats, urged the state's four Republican U.S. House members - Reps. Mary Fallin, Frank Lucas, John Sullivan and Tom Cole - to help override the veto.
The state's sole Democrat in Congress, Rep. Dan Boren, has said he will vote to override although he originally voted against the spending increase.
Reggie Cervantes, president of the Oklahoma chapter of American Patients for Universal Health Care, said she needs medical care for her two children as well as herself for ailments developed after serving as a volunteer rescue worker at the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“No one in the United States should go without health care, said Jim Huff of the American Federation of Teachers.
“We have a moral responsibility to give assistance to those who need it the most, said the Rev. Mitch Randall of NorthHaven Church of Norman.
Without the program, parents will not seek treatment for sick children because of the high cost of health care, Randall said.
“Do not leave these children on the side of the road, he said.