Kids' Health at Risk as Politicians Argue

"Obviously, it's going to take more than the $5 billion to continue this program as we know it today," he said. "We understand the healthcare dollar spent to keep children healthy is less dollars that we will spend later on. I think that is conservative."

President Bush's Secretary for Health and Human Services, Michael Leavitt, agrees children need insurance, but said the SCHIP program is the wrong way to provide it.

"We ought not to make it the engine that pulls the train to a government-run health care system," he said. "And that is what those who would expand it radically would have it become. ... When Washington takes over health care, you end up with fewer choices, long waiting lines and higher taxes."

Child health advocate Ron Pollack of Families USA called that analysis "a disgrace."

"Most children today have their health coverage through their parents' employer," he said. "That's not going to change. ... What this debate is about is to provide a safety net for children in families where the parents simply can't get coverage in the workplace because it's not offered there and they simply can't afford coverage on their own."

'You Feel Like You're In a Hopeless Place'

Adam and Diane Harrison of Dalton, Ga., are one such family. Their 15-month-old son Elijah needs an operation to repair his urethra.

Adam says Elijah should have had the surgery at a year old, but his surgeon refuses to see him until he has insurance. The family's income is too high to qualify for Medicaid, and they are frozen out of the SCHIP program.

"It's hard for me to comprehend," said Adam. "He needs this, and I can't provide it for him. You feel like you're in a hopeless place for your child. I'm sure a lot of people feel that way that don't have insurance."

Adam is disabled from a back injury and collects Social Security. Diane works at WalMart, and has recently reduced her hours and her income. She hopes that will make her eligible for Medicaid.

It means the family must do without birthday presents and cut back on groceries, but they see no other choice.

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