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Muskogee Phoenix - Money for Kid's Health in Jeopardy

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Location: Muskogee, OK

Muskogee Phoenix - Money for Kid's Health in Jeopard

By Keith Purtell

An Oklahoma health care insurance program for children soon could lose $70 million despite support in the House and Senate.

The House and Senate have passed separate bills expanding State Children's Health Insurance Program to cover millions more children. President Bush is threatening to veto the legislation, saying it goes "too far in federalizing health care."

Linda Hattaway, administrative director for the health departments in Muskogee and Sequoyah counties, said SCHIP has been important for the growing number of uninsured families.

"There was a real big change when SCHIP came in several years ago, especially in preventative care," she said. "We couldn't pick up the slack if it wasn't reinstated. For those families that don't have a way to pay, they may not go in for health child checkups."

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said in a media release that he supports the re-authorization of SCHIP in a manner consistent with the program's original intent. He said that intent is to help low-income, uninsured children at 200 percent or below the federal poverty level.

"Systemic health care change is coming, and we have a historic opportunity to shape what that looks like," Coburn said. "We can fall back on a European-style government system where a Washington bureaucrat would decide what health services we get instead of us and our doctors. Or we can achieve universal health care access in a way that's truly American — applying the values of competition, innovation, and personal choice that cause every other sector of our economy to thrive."

Hattaway said she hopes the political debate over SCHIP will be resolved.

"We really need to take care of our kids," she said. "Next to education, I can't think of a better thing to invest it."

However, Hattaway also acknowledged that the issue has complexities.

"Insurance is very expensive now," she said. "Employers are asking their employees to match or pay for insurance. For middle- or low-income families, that's a real burden. So, I can see where employers and parents with little kids would have trouble."

In his media release, Coburn disputed statistics put forward by those who want to reauthorize SCHIP funding.

"Some claim nine million American children do not have health care coverage, but a more careful analysis indicates that there are actually only 690,000 children without access to coverage," he said. "In fact, one out of every two kids in America is already in a government health care program today. Expanding SCHIP to the majority of children in America will lead us further down the road to a single-payer system."

Coburn did not specify what type of analysis resulted in a difference of 8,310,000 children. Hattaway said she was surprised by the smaller number Coburn cited.

Jo Kilgore, public information manager for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, said the SCHIP is to expire at the end of September.

"SCHIP is a federal funding mechanism that allows states to received enhanced federal dollars for expanding health care coverage to more children," Kilgore said. "In Oklahoma, the enhanced funding applies to about 66,000 children per month."

Kilgore said SCHIP is one of the primary funding sources for SoonerCare.

"If SCHIP is allowed to expire, the state would lose some, but not all, of the federal dollars supporting the program," she said.

Kilgore said SoonerCare would not go away if Bush vetoes the children's' insurance.

"On the off chance that there was no reauthorization for SCHIP, we would work with legislative leaders to find any other way at all to identify alternative funding sources," she said.

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