Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: It's hard to believe, but today in the United States more than 8.5 million children have no health insurance. They do not have access to annual checkups or eye exams, and are less likely to receive proper medical care for common childhood illnesses such as sore throats, earaches and asthma.

Covering Kids and Families, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is working to let parents know that low-cost and free health care coverage IS available through the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and Medicaid.

Programs are available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Uninsured children are eligible for these programs, even if their parents work. Eligibility varies by state, but families earning up to $36,000 a year or more may qualify for these programs, which cover doctor visits, immunizations, hospitalizations and more.

As parents prepare their children to go back to school, Covering Kids and Families is encouraging parents of uninsured children to enroll them in a low-cost or free health care coverage program now.

Thank you for helping me spread the word, Abby. -- RISA LAVIZZO-MOUREY, M.D., M.B.A., PRESIDENT AND CEO, ROBERT WOOD JOHNSON FOUNDATION

DEAR DR. LAVIZZO-MOUREY: Thank YOU for your important letter. Parents, I urge you to call (877) KIDS-NOW ((877) 543-7669) to establish whether your children are eligible for these important programs.

DEAR ABBY: I'm 17, and just graduated from high school. I have been accepted at two awesome colleges, but I have no clue as to what my major should be. What I really want is to go to a vocational school and become a hairdresser.

Do you think I should blow off those colleges, Abby? I have to choose before September. -- GIRL WITH HAIR-RAISING PROBLEM

DEAR GIRL: Attend one of the "awesome colleges" for at least a year, and sign up for courses in business. Whether or not you choose to graduate, those courses will be helpful to you in starting and running your own business.

Discuss your goal with your college counselor. In addition to the business courses some knowledge of chemistry and marketing would also be valuable. Although you may think you want to concentrate on cosmetology, you might at some point want to come up with your own product line.

DEAR ABBY: I have been teased by my classmates since third grade. In the sixth grade, I tried to act like I could read palms -- and I also wore strong perfume. The teasing got worse.

I will be in seventh grade in the fall, and I'm wondering if I should still try to be an "actor," or be myself. One person likes me the way I am. His name is "Nate," and he is my boyfriend. Nate says it doesn't matter to him whether I put on an act -- or if I'm just myself. (I think he would prefer me to act more natural.) What do you think I should do? -- UNPOPULAR -- BUT LOVED

DEAR UNPOPULAR: Your friend Nate is wise beyond his years. Be yourself. It's a lot less work than pretending to be a fortune teller or someone you're not.

P.S.: If you enjoy acting, try out for the school plays and musicals. It doesn't take a crystal ball to predict you'll be sensational.

Abby shares more than 100 of her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "More Favorite Recipes by Dear Abby." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $10 (U.S. funds)

to: Dear Abby -- Cookbooklet Set, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in price.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111; (816) 932-6600