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Political Notebook: Lawmakers divided on children's health care bill

Gwinnett's representatives not only sit on the opposite side of the aisle from each other, but they also came out on the opposite side of a major health care vote this week.

U.S. Rep. John Linder, whose 7th District includes most of Gwinnett and Barrow counties, voted against the Children's Health and Medicare Protection Act of 2007, even though its provisions would have helped the state's embattled PeachCare program.

"House Democrats want to give the American people another version of Medicaid, government-run health care. And, in doing so, they're going to expand its coverage to include illegal immigrants and adults with no children living at home," Linder, a Republican, said during a floor debate. "They want to increase federal spending by $50 billion, and more than double the federal taxes on cigarettes to pay for their governmental dreams."

The state children's health care program was created in 1997 to insure families with low incomes who did not qualify for Medicaid, but Linder said many states have expanded to program to families whose household income is more than three times the federal poverty level, putting a strain on the program.

The Congressional Budget Office has predicted that an additional 2.1 million children who are currently covered under private insurance will be moved to the program. "This is a back-door, or a front-door, entrance to 'HillaryCare' national health care," Linder said. But U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat whose district incorporates a portion of the Lilburn and Norcross area, supported the bill, which passed the House by a vote of 225-204 last week. He praised the expansion to cover 5 million more children.

In Georgia, an estimated 295,000 children are enrolled in PeachCare and Johnson said, with the reauthorization, an additional 200,000 will be served.

"This is a great day for America's children," Johnson said. "We are duty bound to protect our young people above all else and we have done that. I am especially pleased that even more children will soon be enrolled to receive medical, dental and mental health care.

Both of Georgia's Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson voted against the bill, which President George W. Bush has threatened to veto. But the measure passed by a vote of 68 to 31.

"I support reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, and I am greatly concerned that the bill passed by the Senate threatens the program's long-term viability," Chambliss said. "Unfortunately, what has gotten lost in this entire debate is the core mission of SCHIP. The bill passed by the Senate not only expands coverage for adults and therefore shifts the focus, but it creates a new middle-class entitlement program that is paid for through budget gimmicks and massive tax increases. The Senate bill also removes more than 2 million children from private health insurance and places them into the government-run health care program, and that is simply the wrong approach."

House and Senate leaders must now tackle the two version of the bill in a conference committee.

Political Notebook appears in the Thursday and Sunday editions of the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Camie Young can be reached via e-mail at camie.young@gwinnettdailypost.com.