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Health board lifts PeachCare freeze

ATLANTA - The state lifted a freeze on the popular PeachCare for Kids program Thursday, allowing low-income parents to sign up their children for health coverage for the first time in four months.

The Georgia Board of Community Health voted unanimously to end the enrollment freeze, which was imposed in March amid uncertainties over the program's future funding.

Congressional approval last spring of legislation providing $121 million for PeachCare took care of the most immediate concerns.

However, long-term funding depends on whether and under what conditions Congress reauthorizes the decade-old State Children's Health Program.

PeachCare still could run out of money if lawmakers in Washington don't act by the beginning of October, said Carie Summers, chief financial officer for the state Department of Community Health.

Because of that uncertainty, PeachCare enrollment will be capped at 295,000.

Summers said the program's current enrollment is just less than 270,000, and there's a backlog of about 22,000 applicants.

"There is some room to grow once we take care of the backlog," she said.

President Bush is backing a proposal to reauthorize SCHIP but with stricter income eligibility requirements.

However, majority Democrats in Congress support maintaining the same income standards.