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PeachCare funding drying up fast

About 130,000 children in Georgia rely on a public health insurance program whose funding is quickly drying up.

Georgia could run out of money for the federally funded Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as PeachCare for Kids in the state, by March, according to the Georgia Department of Community Health.

Georgia receives about $400 million in federal funding annually for PeachCare, which provides health care to children through the age of 18 who do not qualify for Medicaid.

The program is designed for working families at or below 235 percent of the federal poverty level.

“I believe that Congress will pass the needed legislation to allow these children and their families to continue to have access to care,” state Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said. “Until that time, the state of Georgia will continue providing the necessary funding for our children.”

With this in mind, Gainesville resident Latoya Stephens, whose elementary-age son, Joshua, is enrolled in the program, said she’s not yet worried.

Stephens said that because her son is healthy, she’s not yet really concerned.

“It’s not like I have a sick child,” she added.

If worse comes to worst, she could add her son to her employer-sponsored health plan.

“The only thing that would be a cause for concern is the (tax) penalty that would be imposed if you don’t have insurance,” Stephens said, referring to the individual mandate associated with the Affordable Care Act.

The $1.5 trillion tax bill passed by Congress earlier this month repealed the individual mandate, but that won’t take effect until 2019.

As available funding shrinks, however, there is concern among advocates that reductions in coverage, un-enrollments and a freeze on new enrollments could take place.

Laura Colbert, executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future, an organization in Atlanta that advocates for public health insurance programs, said CHIP has traditionally had bipartisan support, which makes the lag in funding all the more concerning.

“It makes us nervous on a couple fronts,” she added.

First, it could be an indicator of Congress’ willingness to support other public health programs going forward, Colbert said.

And in the long run, Colbert worries about the ability of working families to maintain continuous coverage for their children.

“It’s telling for future health care debates,” she said.

Colbert’s organization is working with others to raise awareness of the importance of PeachCare, which she said has been critical in driving down the state’s uninsured rate.

“We thought it would have happened by now,” Colbert said of funding for PeachCare.

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