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Published: Wednesday, 3/16/2005

Speaker vows to save children's medical aid

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Ohio House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) said yesterday that lawmakers will "definitely" find a way to prevent another cut to a state program assisting children with serious medical handicaps like cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, and hemophilia.

"If you look at the people who are served by that program, they are working families," he said. "They are out there. They are doing their best to pay their bills and to be productive members of society. They are in unfortunate circumstances. We want to do our best to support them."

Senate President Bill Harris (R., Ashland) said lawmakers are also trying to find a way to restore past cuts, but both he and Mr. Husted stopped short of firm commitments.

In 1998, the Ohio Department of Health's Bureau of Children with Medical Handicaps had a treatment budget of $12 million and served about 25,000 Ohioans under the age of 21. Funding for the program has since been cut in half, reducing eligibility to about 18,000 this year.

The $51 billion, two-year budget proposed by Gov. Bob Taft last month would cut the program $1 million, or 17 percent, more to $5 million. It represents a rare health care cut in the budget that would directly impact children. Proposed Medicaid cuts target adults.

"This is wonderful," said Connie Webert, of Oak Harbor, whose 18-year-old daughter, Crystal, was dropped from the program last year. Considered uninsurable, she battles cystic fibrosis, an incurable condition characterized by abnormal secretions that obstruct the lungs and pancreas.

"We're already off the program, but at least this would save some other families," said Mrs. Webert.

Crystal hasn't been feeling well, but her mother said Crystal wants to wait until her regular doctor's visit on Monday.

"I would normally take her to the doctor when we had insurance, but she doesn't want all the bills," said Mrs. Webert.

Columbus Bureau Chief James Drew contributed to this report.

- Jim Provance



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