Kids' Health at Risk as Politicians Argue

Michael Post is a Georgia preacher who believes in less government and more personal responsibility. But he says having a daughter with severe autism has taught him he must depend on government for some things.

Therapy for his daughter Cadence, who is 4, costs $25,000 per year, roughly half the family income. She would not be getting that therapy if it were not for a government insurance program for children called SCHIP, or State Children's Health Insurance Program, that is funded with both federal and state dollars.

Michael Post and his wife Connie believe the investment taxpayers are making now will be paid back to them when Cadence grows up.

"We have a lot of hope for our daughter that she can be pulled out of this prison of autism," Michael Post said.

"Our goal for Cadence is to help her reach a measure of independence so she can give back," said Connie Post. "That is what we want for her. But if she does not have early intervention, then there is little or no hope for that."

Families Are Locked Out

The Posts are lucky to have SCHIP insurance. In Georgia, where they live, the rolls are now closed. Families not already enrolled are locked out. Georgia was the first state to run out of money, but other states are in trouble.

The SCHIPS program has become a victim of its own success. It was designed for familes who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to afford private insurance. But in many states like Georgia, there were far more of those families than there was money available.

Congress recently voted Georgia an additional $121 million in emergency funds, but it is not enough for Georgia to completely open the rolls. It is opening only an additional 15,000 slots, just a fraction of the demand.

The Willinghams are not so lucky. They too are eligible for SCHIPS, but they are locked out. Each month they must find $800 to buy medicine for their son Shane, to prevent his seizures.

"I mean, we have to buy his medicine," said his mother Carla Willingham. "And there's nothing we can do, nothing we can do to help him."

For now, Shane's doctor is picking up the tab out of his own pocket. Dr. Marty Michaels and his staff at the Peeds Care Clinic in Dalton, Ga., have put together a fund to help Shane and other children like him.

'Emergency Situation'

"Right now, we basically have an emergency situation in Georgia," said Michaels. "Those of us on the front lines have already seen the impact of that. We've seen children admitted to the hospital that would not have had to be admitted had they been covered and had they had their daily medications."

And he said the crisis is costing taxpayers money.

"Failing to insure children is false economy," he said. "You do save some money up front because you don't pay the premium for that child, but in the long run you pay more for emergency room visits, unneccesary hospitalizations and medical complications."

Democrats in Congress want to add $50 billion to the SCHIP program, which they say will cover all nine million uninsured children in America. But the Bush administration wants to add just $5 billion, an amount most analysts say will not even allow coverage to continue for all children currently enrolled.

Georgia's Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue is siding with the Democrats on this one.

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