The call to the mother who can't afford health insurance comes on a Monday. The kid has an earache and a fever and must go home from school. The mother has to miss work to pick him up.
So Tuesday, at least, the kid is home sick. It's Friday when Rock Hill pediatrician Dr. Martha Edwards, or one of her two colleagues who donate time, can see the child at a free clinic. It takes Edwards about a minute to find out the ear is infected, prescribe the medication, and the kid can get better and go back to school.
Happens every week in York County, Edwards said.
"Routinely, we see a lack of preventive care, lack of care for chronic conditions, for these uninsured children," Edwards said.
Those same children would be eligible for health insurance under a new extension of a program approved last year by your state Legislature. It is those children Gov. Mark Sanford would return to the ranks of the uninsured if he gets his way.
The program at issue is called State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, said Jeff Stensland, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services. A federal program administered by states, with mostly federal money combined with some state money. It has been in place since 1997 for those children above Medicaid level. It covers only children who are uninsured. About 68,000 kids in the state are on the program, Stensland said.
In York County alone in 2007, going to school with your kids were 11,683 of those children from both those Medicaid and SCHIP groups who went directly to the doctor with an earache. In Chester County, 3,376 kids. More than 1 in 10 people in the whole county. In Lancaster County, 5,747 children.
About 70,000 children affected
The next group is the one the governor would cut. A family of four with an income between $30,975 and $41,300. The state's Bureau of Economic Advisors says there are about 70,000 children in South Carolina in this group without insurance, Stensland said.
The governor wants that group to at least give a co-payment. So his proposed budget for this year took out the $22 million the Legislature gave SCHIP for that group. The Legislature decided last year no co-payment. The governor vetoed it.
The Legislature overrode the governor last year, and the poor parents of York County -- not the poorest people but a lot closer to broke than to country club memberships -- got ready to enroll for SCHIP set to start in the spring.
Every one of those parents has a kid, right now, without health insurance. Earaches, asthma -- you name it, they've got it.
The governor's spokesman, Joel Sawyer, told me Tuesday that South Carolina already covers 40 percent of all children younger than 18. The state spends one dollar out of every five it has right now on these programs, Sawyer said, with costs rising.
Tell that to the thousands of mothers who miss work but can't send the kid to the doctor because they can't afford insurance.
The governor also wants to spend $50 million to protect state land from development. One legislator beat me to the punch when he told The Associated Press, "The governor wants to spend $50 million in additional money to take care of land when he's not willing to spend any additional dollars to take care of health care in this state?"
Yes, that is exactly what this governor wants.
I asked Edwards if the governor's idea is "stupid."
"Absolutely," she said.
Here's what Edwards the pediatrician said happens now, every day, and would continue to happen if the governor gets his way: "Those children end up in the emergency room, and we all end up paying those bills," she said.