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Governors appeal for increase in heathcare funds

WASHINGTON -- Governors from both parties appealed yesterday for the Bush administration and Congress to provide more money, now and over the long term, for a healthcare program that insures millions of children.

At stake is coverage for 6 million people, overwhelmingly children, as well as the hopes of many governors in tackling the larger challenge of the uninsured. All governors rely on the program, intended to aid uninsured working families.

"We can come to a consensus that children should be the first priority," said Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia, a Republican.

State leaders met privately to discuss the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, at their annual winter meeting of the National Governors Association. President Bush hosted the governors last night at a White House dinner.

"This is one area where I think people stand entirely together," said New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat.

Georgia and New Jersey are two of 14 states that are expected to run out of money for the program before the next budget year begins in October; in Georgia, it could be as soon as March.

The governors want enough money to keep the program afloat through October. That is estimated at $745 million.

They also called for changes to Bush's budget. Analysts say his spending plan would shortchange the health program even if the number of people served did not grow.

This figure is put at $10 billion to $15 billion over the next five years.

Administration officials have said that the president's plan offered a solution to the immediate shortfall by forcing states with surpluses in their program to surrender unspent money more quickly and help states with deficits.

The program, approved in 1997, covers uninsured children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, the joint state-federal healthcare service for the poor.