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Lawmakers resolve to solve PeachCare
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Effingham County lawmakers believe the few short days left for the General Assembly will result in a budget both chambers can be happy with and will keep PeachCare afloat.

“I think the budget conferees will get it worked out,” state Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) said.

Said Rep. Jon Burns (R-Newington), “I have faith in the House and Senate leadership that this impasse will be resolved and we will have a budget that will work for the people of Georgia and take care of PeachCare. I believe we have a good budget, but we will work with the Senate Appropriations Committee.”

The General Assembly was in recess last week and will resume the session today.

Federal funding for the state children’s health insurance program, known as PeachCare in Georgia, expired in January, and state lawmakers have included $73 million in funding to keep the program going until the federal portion of the funding — which accounts for nearly three-fourths of PeachCare’s money — is renewed.

But that money has been tied to a bill that also calls for a timetable for troop withdrawals from Iraq, and President Bush has threatened to veto the bill. State lawmakers believe the money for the 14 SCHIPs will be approved ultimately and PeachCare will be kept afloat.

“I think there’s been a tremendous amount of work in that,” Burns said. “The leadership in the entire General Assembly has made great attempts in working with Congress.”

Carter, a pharmacist by trade, sees PeachCare’s effect when parents come into his drugstores to get prescriptions filled for their children enrolled in the plan. Concerns over PeachCare’s futures have been a frequent topic brought up with him.

“It’s been significant,” he said Monday from his pharmacy. “A lot of people utilize PeachCare, and I get a lot of that right here.”

In Effingham County, 1,787 children are enrolled in PeachCare, according to Voices for  Georgia’s Children. That’s 13.1 percent of all children in the county. Statewide, the average per county is 10.4 percent.

In the Coastal Empire, only Chatham (5,245) and Glynn (1,952) counties have more children in PeachCare than Effingham. There are more than 300,000 children covered by PeachCare.

Applications for coverage were cut off on March 11 in an effort to control costs as the plan’s funding was drying up, and a dramatic increase of families signing up for PeachCare just before March 11 led legislators to put another $8 million in the PeachCare kitty.

The House passed HB 340, which calls for the adjusted income limits, 101-63 two weeks ago, with Burns and Carter in the yes column. The House measure also would increase the premiums for dental and vision coverage under PeachCare.

PeachCare’s new provisions would cut the income eligibility limit from 235 percent of the federal poverty level to 200 percent. The Department of Community Health could raise that level to 225 percent or lower it to 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

No child currently enrolled in PeachCare will be dropped from coverage.

Burns said House leaders have tried to look at the state’s financial situation and make sure children in PeachCare continue to receive coverage.

“There is a commitment from this state to make sure children are not left unprotected,” he said.