Health Care Has a Relapse

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Dalton Dawes draws an injection of Mononine

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That sort of call from the hinterland got Washington's attention in 1991, when bookish Democrat Harris Wofford ran for the Senate on the health-care issue and pulled off a stunning upset over a two-time Pennsylvania Governor. The next year Bill Clinton deftly appropriated Wofford's message, vowing to "make health care affordable for every family," and toppled the first President Bush. But when Clinton tried to fix the problem--and almost lost his own presidency--he gave all the other politicians pause about making any such promises again.

Which helps explain George W. Bush's predicament. Three years ago, Candy and Amador Guevara of Austin, Texas, had to sell their washer and dryer to pay for their 5-year-old's prescription drugs. They could not qualify for Medicaid beyond their children's first birthdays because Amador's job as a painter and wallpaper hanger pays an average of $350 a week, just over the income limit. But in 1999 Candy heard about CHIP from a social-services agency where she was seeking help to pay for her son's dental care. "It was so easy," says Candy. "All I had to do was show my husband's pay stub."

Texas was two years late in taking maximum advantage of federal matching funds to start its CHIP program, going full force only in 1999, after the situation became an embarrassment to a certain "compassionate conservative" who was thinking about running for President. Now, with roughly 530,000 children enrolled, the Texas program is considered a model of how far CHIP can reach--but faces a possible $20 million shortfall. State lawmakers are looking to Washington for Medicaid money, but the Administration wants to hold the line on domestic spending in order to fund the war on terror. Working parents like the Guevaras say Governor Bush gave them peace of mind. Can President Bush help them keep it?

With reporting by Fred Barnes/ Little Rock, Paul Cuadros/Raleigh, Mitch Frank/ New York, Hilary Hylton/Austin, Jeff Ressner/Los Angeles and Maggie Sieger/Chicago

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