Perdue pressures feds for PeachCare fund

Funds needed by March to continue program

Georgia will run out of money to deliver PeachCare to 270,000 uninsured children by March unless one of two things happens — Gov. Sonny Perdue helps convince federal lawmakers to pay Georgia $130 million to fund the program, or the state Legislature decides to fund the health care for those kids itself.

Perdue testified this week before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee that the federal government should continue to fund the nationwide program, which will run out of money this year if Congress takes no action.

While state legislators on both sides of the aisle want Perdue to convince the feds to deliver the money, some Democrats are pushing for a state backup plan to keep the children — primarily from low- and moderate-income families — covered with health insurance just in case federal funds don't arrive.

However, key Republican leaders say that scrambling to repair what Washington should correct is exactly the wrong message to send. Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, does not favor acting now with state legislation to pay for a potential federal government shortfall of funds for PeachCare.

The assistant House floor leader for Perdue wants to wait and force Washington to assume its cost burden. Rushing state legislation to do the federal government's job might remove the pressure for the feds to act quickly.

"It's critically important for us to hear something in the next 30 days," Golick says. "The responsible tact is for us to let the process play out. I have every confidence the federal government will come through. In the meantime, it's troubling that we have to focus our time on other people's responsibilities."

However, Lauren Waits, policy director of advocacy group Voices for Georgia's Children, last week urged the House Children and Youth Committee to devise a safety net for PeachCare in the event the feds can't dredge up the money in time.

"There are state-based solutions," Waits says. "There's no reason why children should lose their health insurance."

Rep. Kathy Ashe, D-Atlanta, a member of the committee, agrees. "We have to have a plan B in place to show families that we're serious about taking care of these children," she says.

According to the state Department of Community Health, Georgia will run out of federal dollars for PeachCare by the end of February or March of this year. Says Alan Essig, executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, "While DCH would still have approximately $30 million in cash to pay previously incurred bills [through May] the agency reports that funds would not be sufficient to pay for continued coverage of children beyond March 2007."

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