By BRIANNA BOND, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Tobi Drabczyk, of Walkersville, is struggling to care for four children on her husband's modest $36,000 annual salary.
Health care for their children, however, has never been a worry because of Maryland Children's Health Program.
"Because of MCHP, I can get the medicine the children need when they need it as opposed to when I can figure out how to budget for it," Drabczyk said in testimony Thursday to the Senate Subcommittee on Health Care.
With the federal legislation up for reauthorization next year, though, the Drabczyk family could loose that safety net.
"This is a wealthy country, and we should do this," said Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who told Drabczyk he would do "everything in his power" to keep the program going.
Drabczyk testified with a panel of policy analysts and state officials about the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which was designed to provide insurance coverage to children whose family incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to afford private insurance.
Maryland's program faces at least a $64.6 million budget shortfall for next year and will operate on little more than half the funding it needs for 2007, threatening to leave thousands of children uninsured, according to a report from the Maryland Budget & Tax Policy Institute released in September.
"We're a family that works hard . . . we just need a little bit of help to keep our children healthy," Drabczyk said, whose children, Severa, 14, Mitchell, 12, Jocelyn, 3, and Arwen, 16 months, are covered by MCHP.
The budget shortfall could force the program to freeze or cap enrollment or raise monthly premiums if the state can't supplement funding for the program.
Kevin Drabczyk's insurance from his job as a maintenance supervisor at a Frederick apartment complex doesn't cover the rest of the family, and sometimes they find themselves living "paycheck-to-paycheck," she said.
She enrolled her children in MCHP in 2003 after reading about the program in a magazine.
The family would never be able to afford the extra $500 monthly charge to cover her and her children through her husband's insurance, she said. She is still uninsured.
MCHP has enabled Drabczyk to pay for medications and vaccinations for her children and proved invaluable when her son, Mitchell, was referred to a pediatric neurologist for his vocal tics and sharp neck movements. He was soon diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome, she said.
"Without MCHP, we would never have been able to afford the specialists and all the tests. We'd still be wondering what was happening to our child. MCHP helped allay our terrible fears," she said.
As of Oct. 1, 100,904 people were enrolled in MCHP, according to John Hammond, spokesman for Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which administers the program.
"Our children are our future," said Lisa Dubay, a research scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who also testified before the committee.
The program should be fully funded "to continue this progress and move forward in finding ways to ensure that all uninsured children secure coverage that assures high quality access to care," Dubay said.
With the lame-duck Congress nearly at the end of its term, some advocates are concerned that the budget shortfalls won't be addressed before states submit budget proposals for the next fiscal year.
Drabczyk is confident her representatives will "do the right thing" and find a way to fund the program so families like hers will have health care for their children.
"Obviously my kids are my primary concern."