Bush Talks Foreign; States Want Domestic Care

When President Bush addressed a meeting of the National Governors Association on Monday, he spoke at length about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he failed to address a bigger concern for many governors: a shortfall in the states' health-care funding for low-income children.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Health care for the poor and underserved has also been on the minds of many of the nation's governors, as well as NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr.

DANIEL SCHORR: In his speech to the winter meeting of the National Governors' Association on Monday, President Bush talked a lot about war and homeland security, a little about the budget, immigration and health care, and not at all about what was most on the minds of the governors: CHIP.

CHIP - Children's Health Insurance Program - is an entitlement program for the children of the working poor. The Congress Budget Office estimates that CHIP faces the prospect of a shortfall of $700 million this year, and some $13 billion in the next four years. At this point, there are some $6 million -mainly children - who receive health care under CHIP.

Fourteen states are threatened with falling short of the money needed to keep the program afloat. The administration spends $5 billion a year in grants to the states for CHIP, and indicates that it plans to stick with that figure, whatever the enrollment may be.

It is the negation of the entitlement principle, an obligation to meet the demonstrated need, that has the states up in arms. Democratic Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania asks whether tax cuts for the rich should be at the expense of poor children. But Democrats are not alone.

Republican Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia says his state may have to freeze enrollments. Five billion dollars to treat six million children may seem piddling next to the hundreds of billions for defense.

Leave no child behind is a slogan that President Bush borrowed from the Children's Defense Fund and applied to his No Child Left Behind education program. Perhaps it could be applied as well to children's health. Or perhaps children's health should be redefined as a defense program, meant to ensure a supply of healthy young people for future wars. This is Daniel Schorr.

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