Health care playmakers in Washington are trying to make suckers out of parents who support school-based clinics. While these clinics often provide vital services, they do have a dark side.
Reps. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, and Lois Capps, California Democrat, were feted in October by the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care. At the time of his honor, Mr. Dingell said, "Parents can take comfort in the fact that their children are receiving excellent health care while in school." Where are "tea partiers" when parents need them?
These advocates are just the sort to take on the congressman from the great state of Michigan and urge him to have a face-to-face explanation session with "Jill," a mom in Seattle who is irate as all get out that her daughter's school-based clinic put her 15-year-old into a taxicab and shipped her off to have an abortion without parental knowledge or consent.
No apparent laws were broken by clinic workers because Washington state law allows 1) health care services for minors without parental consent; 2) abortions and abortion-related services at any age without the consent of a parent, a guardian or the father of the child; and 3) testing of children as young as 13 for sexually transmitted diseases, inpatient and outpatient mental health care, and prenatal care without parental consent.
In other words, Washington state, Congress and the White House are speaking with one voice: Parents cannot always have a say in their children's health matters.
There are an estimated 2,000 school-based clinics across the country that provide much-needed services for youths, including physicals for student athletes. The clinics were instrumental in helping to stem the recent swine flu panic by providing vaccinations. These publicly funded clinics also come to the aid of boys who may need to just lie down because of a migraine or girls whose unbearable menstrual craps are making classroom learning difficult, and they are indispensable in identifying the signs of domestic abuse and violence.
The clinics themselves are not inherently flawed.
The rub is posited in public-policy mandates.
The new health care legislation appropriates $200 million for school-based clinics over the next two years and dangles an additional $50 million for expansions.
But what, precisely, will be expanded? Will school-based clinics begin inoculating boys and girls with the questionable HPV vaccine? Urge girls to ignore their religious beliefs and use birth control? What about illegal immigrants and undocumented workers? The Gilroy Neighborhood Clinic in San Jose currently provides care to undocumented workers one night a week. If the program is expanded to five nights a week, who would pay? Only San Diego taxpayers? All Californians? All U.S. taxpayers?
Federal lawmakers are already working on legislation to appropriate money for these clinics, and they are expected to take it up this fall in the midst of midterm congressional elections.
Not all school-based clinics are as nefarious as that Seattle one, but lawmakers in the Baptist-dominated Bible Belt aren't taking the health care mandates lying down.
Tennessee state legislators, for example, passed a measure that says, "No health care plan required to be established in the state through an exchange pursuant to federal health care reform legislation enacted by the 111th Congress shall offer coverage for abortion services." Virginia, Louisiana and a dozen other states are moving in the same direction.
There's no doubt parents are being hoodwinked by Washington, where reading between the lines is often more informative than reading the fine print.
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at email@example.com.