Kids Face Life and Death Without a Net

If the 9 million American children without health insurance held hands, they would easily stretch from coast to coast.

Brenda Tinch's son is one of those children. Tinch and her husband, whose job does not offer health benefits, struggle every month to pay for asthma medication. They've had to put off bills and borrow from the family members and fellow churchgoers.

"Without being able to provide for my kids," said Tinch, "it's a helpless feeling."

That's how Akia Anderson feels, too. Her daughter has a bone disease and needs an orthopedist, which Anderson cannot afford.

"That's my baby," said Anderson, "and I can't do what I need to do for her. I can't do what I need to do for her, so I feel helpless and hopeless."

Anderson has a job, too. But, like many families, she makes too much for Medicaid and too little to afford private insurance.

"If you judged a country by how it treats its most vulnerable people, we're certainly failing when you leave 9 million children behind," said Ron Pollack of the child advocacy group Families USA.

Marian Wright Edelman, of the Children's Defense Fund, called the problem a "national disgrace."

The crisis "not only costs lives of children and stress for families, but it also costs taxpayers money," she added.

Here's how it costs taxpayers money:

When Carol Martin's son, Simon, had an infected toe, she could not afford to take him to the doctor. She cut a hole in his shoe and hoped it would get better. But it got worse.

After five months fighting red tape, she got public insurance for her son, but by then his foot required expensive surgery -- a bill taxpayers swallowed.

"I'm not looking for a handout," said Martin. "I just need assistance. Health care. That's all."

When uninsured children do get medical care, that care is often inferior. One study from Families USA said an uninsured child is twice as likely to die when hospitalized, when compared to an insured child.

Even when a child is covered by government insurance, he or she can fall through the cracks. Like Deamonte Driver.

Driver's mother, Alyce, could not find a single dentist who would accept Medicaid. An abscessed tooth became a brain infection. Emergency treatment cost a quarter-million dollars, but it was too late.

"And my son had to die -- 12 years old -- because of a tooth," she said.

When asked about the 9 million uninsured children, Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt said, "There is a widely held aspiration that we change that."

So what is being done about it?

"Well," said Secretary Leavitt, "there is a lot of talk about it, but thus far we have not achieved it. I think a moment is coming where we may see significant progress."

If and when that moment comes, it will be too late for Devante Johnson. He lost his insurance coverage while in the middle of treatments for kidney cancer.

"He was my little angel from God," said Devante's mother, Tamika Scott. "He was only sent for a season -- but the season he was here he did well, and I'm just honored to be his mother."

Coming up on future weekends:

ABC News examines charges that state officials deliberately erect bureaucratic barriers so that parents have trouble enrolling their children in insurance programs -- as a way to save money.

A look at a program that many believe has been very successful in covering children in working families. Why some believe this program is now in jeopardy.