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PeachCare enrollment frozen

POSTED: March 27, 2007 5:13 a.m.
Georgia’s PeachCare for Kids will officially stop accepting new enrollments Monday while the state and federal government strive to work out the program’s funding problem.
The Georgia Department of Community Health’s board of directors voted unanimously Thursday to freeze new enrollments for the health insurance program that provides coverage for children in low-to-moderate-income families.
Physician and GDCH commissioner Dr. Rhonda Meadows said stopping enrollment is an attempt to keep PeachCare operating for current enrollees.
Following the board’s decision, Democratic leaders in Congress announced they would attach $735 million to the Iraq supplemental budget to cover the $131 million federal shortfall for PeachCare and State Children’s Health Insurance Programs (S-CHIP) in 13 other states.
The Iraq funding bill, which contains the money for PeachCare, is expected to pass through Congress in March.
State Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway), however, said it was “anybody’s call” when the funds would actually reach the states in need.
“It has to go through the process,” Williams said. “But I know we run out of money this month.”
If federal money does not make its way to Georgia in time, the representative said the state would be responsible for fully funding the program beginning in April, with the expectation the federal government will return the funds to the state.
“I got assurances from Democratic leadership (in Congress) that money the state spends will be reimbursed to the state," Williams said. "I think that's a major thing."
Congressman Jack Kingston (R-Savannah), who recently met with Williams and members of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus in Washington, said a few lawmakers are weary about providing financial support without addressing the bigger issues of some states' misuse or "liberal interpretation" of how S-CHIP funds should be used.
"New Jersey right now goes to 350 percent above the poverty level and they actually have adults that are using the children's healthcare program," Kingston said.
The congressman noted that while S-CHIP was created to help states provide health insurance for working families whose incomes were too high for Medicaid, but too low for affordable private insurance, it was not meant to replace private insurance.
"The program was not set-up to be an entitlement program, but unfortunately it has kind of been interpreted that way by many of the states," he said.
While federal and state lawmakers continue to work out the kinks in the program, Williams hopes a decision is on the horizon to protect the future of healthcare for the state's youngest residents.
"I hope we can bring resolution soon because healthcare for over 270,000 children is dependent upon us finding a solution," he said. "And many of those children are in Liberty County."
Kingston said a larger issue is the nation's healthcare system itself.
"You have to eventually figure out what are you going to do with healthcare overall to bring down the costs permanently and therefore make programs like this more affordable," he said. "That's one of the big challenges we're having with this debate."
 

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