By HALLIE C. FALQUET, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Job Bedford, 13, didn't realize his dish at the Chinese buffet had shrimp in it, but when his shellfish allergy triggered an asthma attack moments later, his lungs contracted so tight he asked his mother if he was going to die.
If he'd had the pocket-size inhalers he carries now, the situation would not have been so dire, but the family's insurance at the time didn't cover those. Instead his father raced across town to get a bulky nebulizer to the buffet in time to save his son's life.
The lanky eighth-grader from Baltimore told the Senate Finance Committee Thursday how Maryland's Children's Health Insurance Program changed his life and that he was there "to make a difference to help fund CHIP."
Job was diagnosed as asthmatic at age 5, and his parents, business owners Kim Lee and Craig Bedford, scrimped to pay for private insurance that did not cover the medicine Job, or their other four children needed.
CHIP provides the small inhalers, as well as medicine that diverts asthma attacks before they occur.
The Bedford family came to Congress to support reauthorization of funding for the health care program that they say was a "blessing."
The financial hardship of paying for private insurance forced the couple to take their children to the doctor only in an emergency and forgo preventive medicine.
"Did we 'really' need to fill the prescription for two asthma inhalers or could we make do with one, and just hope our son didn't lose it?" testified Job's mother of one of the "impossible decisions" she faced when paying for private insurance.
The Children's Health Insurance Program began nationwide in 1997 and came to Maryland one year later. It provides coverage for low-income children under the age of 19 and pregnant women of any age.
In fiscal year 2006, Maryland enrolled 101,000 children in the program, said Tricia Roddy, director of planning for the Medicaid program of Maryland.
The original fund set by Congress in 1997 was $5 billion, and at least $12 billion to $15 billion is needed to cover the program over the next five years, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.
Maryland's allotment of federal funds was set to run out in March with an estimated shortfall of more than $64 million, according to a report released in September by the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute.
A last-minute vote by Congress in December awarded Maryland excess money unused by other states, however, despite this vote, Roddy said money for children's insurance will still come up short by May. The program is set to expire on Sept. 30.
"It would have a very, very tragic effect if we don't reauthorize," said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., "the state doesn't have sufficient resources to pick up after the federal government for services such as primary care, immunizations," and so on.
Job closed the hearing by referring to earlier testimony that CHIP fulfills the same role as a Good Samaritan, in providing help when needed at no cost to the person needing assistance. To do that, Job said, the program needs money.
"No one," Baucus replied, "could say it better."