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TV ads urge Bishop to lead fight for children's health coverage

ATLANTA - A coalition of unions and health-management companies seeking to build support for congressional reauthorization of children's health coverage is turning to a Georgia Democrat and a dozen other lawmakers for help.

The Partnership for Quality Care launched a $1.2 million TV ad campaign Thursday in the districts of eight Democratic House members and five Republicans urging them to support a proposal now before the Senate to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

The $35 billion for SCHIP, the parent of Georgia's PeachCare program, would be funded by raising the federal tax on cigarettes by 61 cents per pack.

In Georgia, the ads are running in Albany and Columbus, the two TV markets in U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop's district.

Bishop, D-Albany, has been a strong supporter of SCHIP and PeachCare. In fact, it was Bishop who helped set up meetings in Washington last winter between a Georgia legislative delegation worried about a looming federal shortfall in PeachCare funding and congressional leaders involved in the issue.

Coalition spokeswoman Kate Navarro-McKay said the districts of Bishop and the other lawmakers were chosen for the two-week ad campaign in hopes that they will champion SCHIP reauthorization.

"We're targeting House members based on people we thought could be leaders," she said.

Bishop's spokeswoman, Caroline Burns, said he supports expanding SCHIP, which was created by Congress a decade ago to help working families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private health insurance.

But she said Bishop is worried about relying on taxing cigarettes to offset the costs of the expansion.

"Tobacco taxes are a declining revenue source," Burns said.

According to an article published Thursday by Congress Daily, other congressmen targeted by the ad campaign also have reservations about tying SCHIP to cigarette taxes.

Some are from tobacco-growing states and, thus, are averse to raising the federal tax on tobacco products.

Others, according to the article, were concerned about the political implications of voting for any tax increase.

But Navarro-McKay said there's a natural linkage between promoting children's health and raising taxes on an unhealthy product.

"We're health care providers," she said. "We see first hand the effects of smoking."

The legislation is beginning to make headway in the Senate.

It cleared the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, with most of the panel's Republicans and all of the Democrats supporting the measure.

But President Bush is threatening to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. The proposed increase would bring SCHIP funding to $60 billion during the next five years, double what the president is seeking.