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Effort aimed at getting more kids into insurance progam

COLUMBIA — Tens of thousands of poor kids from across the state may finally get health care through efforts to rejuvenate a state-run insurance program that didn't reach them.

More than 130,000 uninsured children live in South Carolina, and that number is expected to grow as the recession continues to deepen and more moms and dads are handed pink slips.

"This is a message to all the parents in South Carolina: If your children do not have medical insurance coverage, we want you to know that you may qualify," said Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.

The state Legislature has set aside money since 2007 for an estimated 70,000 children to receive coverage for checkups, hospital stays, dental care, eye exams, prescriptions and other services through the S.C. Healthy Connections Kids. So far, only 12,000 children have signed up.

Legislative budget writers are still drafting the state's spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and money for the State Children's Health Insurance Program was included in the House-passed version.

On Thursday, Sue Berkowitz, director of S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, and Frank Knapp, president of the state Small Business Chamber of Commerce, announced an effort to get 650,000 fliers in the hands of parents whose children could benefit.

Rep. David Mack, D-North Charleston, is among legislators who will be distributing fliers to local school districts as a way to get the word out.

"This is not only the morally right thing to do, it is the fiscally responsible thing to do," Mack said. If a child gets the proper preventive care, then expensive health problems can be avoided, he said.

Mack said he is disappointed that the state Department of Health and Human Services has not done a better job getting children signed up for the program.

A Watchdog report by The Post and Courier published in October revealed the low number of children signed up for the program. At the time it was 16 months after the Legislature authorized the expanded coverage, and only 7,000 children were enrolled.

Officials at the Health and Human Services Department vowed to do more to publicize the program, but pointed to the slow-moving bureaucratic process that involved approvals from Washington, D.C., and a lack of money to promote it.

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