With the exception of the mounting death tolls of American soldiers and Iraqi citizens that are published on a daily basis, few more depressing statistics are released during the year than the U.S. Census Bureau’s report on the number of people in this country without health insurance.

There has been an inexorability in the yearly increases of the ranks of the uninsured over the last decade. But last year the increase was more of a growth spurt. Over the course of the year some 2.2 million more Americans became uninsured, bringing the grand total to 47 million, which means we are closing in on almost 16% of the country’s population.

Among these 47 million were some 8.7 million children under the age of 18.

And it is these children who represent the current flash point in the ideological battle over health insurance in this country.

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program is set to expire on Sept. 30 and there’s a 3-party battle going on among the Bush administration, the House and the Senate over how much the program should be expanded.

There is a lot of bipartisan support, particularly in the Senate, for expanding SCHIP. Indeed, to the politicians who have joined hands across the aisle covering uninsured children is a no-brainer. This was attested to by the Senate passing its bill by a rare veto-proof margin.

But a no-brainer isn’t what it used to be. And so to the Bush administration, expanding SCHIP the way the Senate does (we won’t even go near the House’s version) is the opening of the door to national health insurance somewhere down the line.

Now this is an interesting line of thought because it is contradicted by people who would seem to have the most stake in being finely attuned, as the saying goes, to the camel’s nose being poked under the tent.

So, I wonder what the President would say in response to Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans. Commenting on the latest stats from the Census Bureau on the uninsured, Ignagni released a statement that reads, “Forty-seven million Americans cannot afford to wait until after the next election to address this critical issue. Congress can take an important first step by reauthorizing the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides a vital health care safety net for low-income children.”

Now, the last person in the world I would expect to get behind any action that would even smack of easing us into national health insurance is Ms. Ignagni, who after all heads a group of some 1300 companies that provide health insurance.

Then there is a statement from Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, which says in part: “While politicians may disagree about whether government or private markets are the solution to covering children and improving the quality of health care in the United States, health care leaders do not. In a recent Commonwealth Fund/Modern HealthCare/Harris Interactive survey, health care leaders said loud and clear that children up to 300 percent of the poverty level need to be covered by SCHIP and that the federal government can play a strong role in reforming health care overall.”

Children, all children, deserve to have health care. It is not something that should be dependent on whether their parents have health insurance coverage. Children should not be pawns in some ideological chess game, particularly when you remember that pawns are usually the first pieces in a game to get knocked off.