Pediatricians rally to 'Stand Up for Children,' support SCHIP to cover care

Robert Perry

Lisa Chamberlain, a pediatrician, spoke to about 100 people gathered at a rally at the School of Medicine to support SCHIP, the childen’s health insurance program.

Robert Perry

Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of the medical school, spoke to the crowd at the rally.

Robert Perry

Pediatric residents and other physicians carried placards to publicize their support of a bill passed by Congress that would reauthorize and expand SCHIP.

Lisa Chamberlain

About 100 people—including pediatric residents, faculty members and community parents—gathered at the School of Medicine on Oct. 2 to protest President George Bush's threatened veto of a bill that would reauthorize and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Act, or SCHIP.

The "Stand Up for Children" rally, which took root at a week-ago lunch meeting of pediatric residents at Packard Children's Hospital, was echoed in similar events at hospitals nationwide. One of the gatherings took place in San Jose at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center on Oct. 1, and others were planned around the Bay Area including UC-San Francisco.

"Having SCHIP in peril like this is so mind-boggling, so short-sighted, that we are livid," said Lisa Chamberlain, MD, a pediatrician at Packard Children's who helped organize and publicize the event. Chamberlain is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at the medical school.

School of Medicine Dean Philip Pizzo attended the event, held on the Dean's Lawn, where white-coated residents sported baby blue ribbons and handed out sheets with contact information for legislators who opposed the bill.

"We're here today as individuals to speak for those who can't speak for themselves—our nation's children, particularly those who don't have health care," said Pizzo, MD, who is also a pediatrician. "I am proud to be standing with you."

SCHIP, which is due to expire this fall if not extended, is a federal program implemented in 1997 to cover uninsured children who don't qualify for Medicaid. About 6.6 million children per year rely on SCHIP coverage for their basic medical needs; the new bill would renew the program for five years and extend coverage to an additional 4 million children. President Bush has said the $60 billion bill is too expensive and goes too far toward federalizing health care.

Although individual pediatric residents at Packard Children's have been lobbying for several weeks in support of SCHIP, they recently decided to mount a more visible, public effort. They had a receptive audience in other teaching hospitals around the country.

"The idea was like spark to tinder," said Chamberlain. "We tapped in to a lot of frustration, and plans for events at other institutions took off like wildfire." More than 30 institutions signed on to hold similar rallies, including Phoenix Children's Hospital, Miami Children's Hospital and Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Participants hope that the show of support by medical professionals nationwide will generate the congressional votes necessary to override the threatened veto. Although the legislation passed the Senate on Sept. 27 with a veto-proof majority of 67 votes, a Sept. 25 vote in the House garnered only 265 of the 289 votes needed to override a presidential veto.

Health care for kids clearly strikes a nerve with the young doctors on the front lines.

"I encounter families who are struggling with health insurance issues every day," said Packard Children's pediatric resident Arti Desai, MD. "This would be such a gigantic step backward," agreed Packard pediatric resident John Peoples, MD. "It's hard to believe it's actually happening. We need to get people outside of the health-care industry to understand what's going on."

Added Chamberlain, "These are the future pediatricians mobilizing to protect the future of their country: children who need regular, basic health care. It's inconceivable that the children we care for every day who rely on this program could now be uninsured."