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Cheaper gas or healthy kids?

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Maybe it makes sense to you here, in this time of economic recovery, for folks to get a little relief in filling their tanks. Or maybe it makes more sense to give the corporations and the wealthier among us a break and let 'em keep more of what conservative pundits and talk-show hosts like to call their "hard-earned money." Perhaps there's a program or two or an under-funded initiative, like North Carolina's foundering mental health reform we're supposedly in the middle of, that could use the kind of jolt that money would give.

There are a lot of solid places where that money can do some good.

But any money manager worth their salt will tell you that the best thing to do with a little extra cash is to put it to work--invest it in something that will pay off down the road.

Several other states that have recently found themselves in North Carolina's position have done just that and created a win-win that makes social, political and moral sense. The solution is not as sexy as a gas rebate or as pork-a-rific as funding a slew of teapot museums. It's rather simple, really--make sure every child in this state grows up with decent medical care.

Every legislature in the country knows why and how to create universal access for children. The feds, back when they cared about this sort of thing, even came up with incentives and some underwriting to help. Maine passed a plan to cover all the uninsured under 18 in 2003, and bills recently passed or in the works in Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont and Florida have either done that much or more. But most states are like North Carolina, with a plan in place and not enough money in it to make it work.

There are now almost 300,000 uninsured children in this state. Most of them are eligible for either Medicaid or the state's Children's Health Insurance Program, but due to lack of money, education and outreach they cannot be signed up. That's 300,000 children who aren't getting the kind of immunizations, checkups and pediatric care that will help them grow into healthy, productive adults. That's 300,000 kids who are getting their health care via the emergency room or--too often--not at all. That's 300,000 children we're letting down while we sit on a fat wallet wondering what to do.

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