Connecticut Children’s Medical Center CEO on a mission to share how American Health Care Act would hurt kids

Oped written by Connecticut Children’s President & CEO, Jim Shmerling 

With 55 percent of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center patients on Medicaid, the cuts the American Health Care Act proposes would be devastating, undermining our ability to provide care to children across the state.  Last year, Connecticut Children’s provided more than 300,000 patient visits.

When we talk about Medicaid, we are talking about kids’ health. We are talking about access to primary care and routine immunizations.  We are talking about x-rays after a bad fall during a baseball game.  We are talking about treatment for a child unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer.  Unfortunately, in the current debate about the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and included revisions to Medicaid, almost nobody is talking about the 30 million children in the United States whose health care is covered by Medicaid.  We can’t let Congress get this wrong.

Children make up more than 40% of the Medicaid program nationally but they account for only 20 percent of Medicaid expenditures. This means that reductions to Medicaid disproportionately impact children. In Connecticut, more than 290,000 kids are covered by Medicaid and over 50 percent of the kids we see at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center have Medicaid coverage.

Funding those children in the Medicaid program is a great investment. When we fund a child’s routine immunizations or provide funding for their care when they experience a significant injury or are diagnosed with cancer, serving their health care needs when they are young saves billions of dollars in later years.

The extraordinary cuts being proposed to the Medicaid program proposed by the House is going to disproportionately impact children.  Based on a recent analysis, funding for children’s health care would be reduced by over $20 billion by 2026. When federal policies are being promulgated and cuts such as these are being drafted, they rarely over-sample to measure the impact of their decisions on children. Even though children represent a significant portion of the population served by Medicaid, the consequences of reducing or even eliminating their access to health care services by virtue of reduced funding is rarely measured, much less called out.

The House of Representatives proposal fails to guarantee that funds for children will be spent on them, or that the children who need coverage most will receive it.  Since Medicaid funding is a partnership between states and the federal government, most states will have to make difficult decisions- sick children could be denied care.  Low-income kids could be faced with significant hurdles accessing preventative visits that would give them a healthier start and better chance in school and life.

Here at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, for example, multiple physician specialists have been treating a two year-old boy with epileptic spasms. The child’s father, a military veteran, now must stay home to care for the child while the mother works as a behavioral health worker.  The family makes just under fifty thousand dollars a year and is currently enrolled in Medicaid.  But if the AHCA became law, it is likely the child could lose benefit coverage or lose their insurance coverage all together.

Federal funding cuts to Medicaid would increase the fiscal burden on Connecticut, forcing our State to make the choice between devoting precious dollars to children’s health care and other priorities like public safety and education. As we have seen in this year’s State budget proposals, funding to care for children enrolled in the Medicaid is already precarious. Reductions have already been proposed so additional reduced federal funding could prove to be catastrophic for the most vulnerable amongst us, our children.

Children are our most precious asset, and yet often in health care policy and funding discussions, the child population is overshadowed by the much larger expenditures generated by adults. Simply put, the changes proposed in the AHCA are unacceptable. They threaten to destabilize the entire children’s health care system. Kids are the future of our country, and investing in their health means investing in our nation. Congress must act now to protect Medicaid and reject any proposal that endangers children’s health care.

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