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New Child Health Insurance Plan May Have Flaws

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DURHAM — North Carolina's brand new child health insurance plan is supposed to help protect children, but one part of the plan may do just the opposite.

School-based health centers are located on school grounds and staffed by health care professionals, so students can receive physical and emotional care services without leaving school. They're usually located in rural areas where the need for health care is critical.

Some child advocates say a section of the new plan effectively shackles school-based health centers at a time when such clinics are needed most.

Sherry Braxton is one of hundreds of students at Durham's Southern High School who receive comprehensive health care at the school's on site wellness center. She says she depends on the center.

"[The program] is very important," says Braxton. "Because not only does it help me, it also helps other students who don't have the ability to go elsewhere."

Family Nurse Practitioner, Sally Messick, runs the center. She's concerned about the state's proposed plan. If passed, she says, it could shutdown school-based clinics and cutoff care for thousands of children.

"It's very disturbing," says Messick. "I know that probably a third to half of the kids that we treat here don't have health insurance."

The new plan says, with the exception of funds for immunizations, no state and federal money, or money from any other source, may be used under the child health insurance program.

School Funding coordinator Michelle Lyn says Southern's center is funded by General Electric and Glaxo-Wellcome,but that it needs more money to maintain care.

The thought of either phasing these centers out or severely handicapping them in terms of receiving funds to sustain themselves is very horrifying to me," says Lyn.

Braxton says the new insurance plan could make obtaining health care very complicated for her.

"I'll have to find another doctor," Braxton says. "Everything will be very complicated concerning the fact that it's not in the area. Transportation would be a problem also.

During the upcoming legislative session, health and human services intends to stop the attack on school based health centers, keeping it available to students.

HHS worker Debbie Crane says her office would like to be able to save those centers that are doing a good job.

"School-based health clinics are kind of spotty," says Crane. "Some places have them, some places don't. The places that do, and where they're doing a good job, we'd like for them to be able to continue to work with these children that are in this program."

HHS says the reason the clause is in the plan in the first place is that it comes from opponents of school-based health clinics. They fear the centers may provide teenagers with contraceptives or family planning, even though those practices are banned in N.C.'s schools


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