Lack of creativity, not lack of money, is threatening health-care coverage for more than 160,000 children.

Like most of the state's health-care safety net, California's Healthy Families program for uninsured children in low-income families is facing the budget ax. The program's bureaucracy, acknowledging a $17.2 million shortfall, recently declared that the only way to stop the hemorrhage is to close enrollment Dec. 18 and start a waiting list for the 27,000 new enrollees each month.

I'm frustrated these andquot;solutionsandquot; give no better alternative than creating a waiting list for the medical, dental and vision needs of children without resources. As an oral surgeon for 30 years, I've treated the lifetime damage from a lack of basic childhood dental care.

There is a better way. Reallocate andquot;First 5andquot; commission money mandated by voters to support children's healthcare and fund Healthy Families instead of subsidizing cartoon shows ($4 million this year!), neighborhood parties, Italian immersion classes, digital cameras and craft workshops.

Instead of shutting the doors of Healthy Families to California's kids, make the program financially sustainable by reforming its design to promote good care based on health needs, not political expediency. Instead of andquot;one size fits allandquot; benefits that include acupuncture, biofeedback and in-patient drug rehab or abortion at no charge, Healthy Families should allow parents to choose plans that better fit their needs at a lower cost.

Thinking outside the box is a better alternative than falling through the safety net.

State Sen. Sam Aanestad

Fourth District