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Our view: Kids' health care doesn't deserve political games

Here's something congressional and Bush administration officials can all be thankful for as they break for the Thanksgiving holidays.

They can be very, very thankful that they have secure health coverage.

None of these elected officials have to worry the first whit about getting sick and going to the doctor. They know they'll be taken care of and that they can rely on a top-notch medical plan.

But for millions of children caught in a political Catch-22 - including more than a quarter-million in Georgia alone - there are no guarantees. These are not children who are "connected." They are children whose families can't afford to buy private insurance to cover them even though they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

In Georgia, families earning up to 235 percent of the federal poverty limit - about $40,000 a year for a family of three - can join the PeachCare for Kids program. The federal government pays a little less than three-quarters of the cost, with Georgia picking up the rest. Last month, fewer than 270,000 children were enrolled.

Those 270,000 kids are in a precarious position because President Bush and Congress cannot get beyond a stalemate on how much much to fund the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which currently costs $5 million a year. Bush wants to increase the funding to $6 million for a total of $30 million over the next five years. Democrats in control of Congress want to see those spending numbers swell to $12 million and $60 million, respectively.

The scenario is pretty much this: Congress passes the bigger spending plan, Bush vetoes it, Congress can't override the veto and everybody waxes eloquent about how much they really, really care for the children and how awful it is that the other side will use the kids as political pawns.

Last week, Congress passed a temporary measure keeping spending at current levies until mid-December and went home. No sense, after all, in letting a little matter like children's health care throw a damper on the holidays.

As long as this standoff remains, that's likely to be the modus operandi - just keep it like it's going now until the election season starts. Once people start hitting the polling booths for presidential preference primaries and congressional members begin their re-election bids in earnest, then pressure can mount to turn one side or the other.

For Georgia, that's a bad strategy.

Earlier this year, PeachCare for Kids hit a financial crisis that required temporarily freezing new enrollment. And if Congress and the administration don't work out a solution, it will happen again. Officials have cited a funding formula problem in the current program - an issue that should be corrected in the new bill. If that fix doesn't happen, state officials predict PeachCare will run out of money again next March.

Doubling the problem, state officials in Georgia wonder how they should administer the program. Should they run it with expectations that funding will be there for an expanded client base, or should they prepare to rim the roles to make the money work?

The most maddening aspect of this whole political drama is that both sides actually agree that the program is a good thing. One can only imagine how these "statesmen" would act if they disagreed.

Taxpayers will also take a hit if the federal government doesn't get its act together. The kids enrolled in SCHIP-funded plans are getting preventative care. Their health problems are caught and treated far in advance of desperate runs to crowded hospital emergency rooms. Taxpayers for expensive treatment that is required once an illness is out of control. It just makes good sense from both a humanitarian and an economic perspective.

Maybe the wisdom of doing the right thing will suddenly dawn on our elected national officials sometime sometime this week while they're carving the turkey, watching the football games or shopping at the mall.

If so, then that would truly be something to be thankful for!

The unsigned editorials reflect the opinion of the Citizen newspapers. Columns, letters to the editor and cartoons reflect the opinions of the individuals who penned them.