December 11, 2017
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The Republican health care bill will reverse gains made in children’s health

By Claire Berkowitz, Special to the BDN
George Danby | BDN | BDN
George Danby | BDN | BDN

All Maine children and families should be able to see a doctor when they are hurt or sick. With quality, affordable health insurance, more Mainers can get the care they need to quickly go back to school, work and life.

The health care bill under consideration in Congress, however, moves the country in the opposite direction. If passed, the American Health Care Act would do irreparable damage to the health of our children, families and seniors, leaving states in the lurch during economic or public health crises.

Right now, the Medicaid program is a true partnership between the federal government and the states, but the health care bill caps Medicaid funding and shifts additional costs to the states. This means Maine will receive less money to cover low-income children, seniors and individuals with disabilities, resulting in cuts to coverage, services or provider reimbursement rates.

Too many families are just one bad accident, illness or lost job away from economic ruin. We need to make sure successful programs such as Medicaid — or, as we call it, MaineCare — are there when families need them.

Medicaid is the single largest insurer of children in the country, covering roughly 36.8 million kids, and covering these kids only accounts for about a quarter of Medicaid spending. For children in families who just miss the income eligibility guidelines for Medicaid, they can receive free or low-cost health care coverage through the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Together, these programs ensure that our children can get the preventive care they need so they can play, learn and grow.

In Maine, more than 130,000 children depend on MaineCare for health care coverage. But by radically changing the way Medicaid is funded, the American Health Care Act threatens the health and well-being of nearly half of Maine’s children and their families. It also threatens to reverse two decades of critical gains made in children’s health care coverage.

As of 2016, 95 percent of all U.S. children had health insurance, largely because they can access coverage under Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act. When children have access to affordable, health care coverage, they are more likely to receive preventive well-child care, see a doctor when they are sick, miss fewer days of school, and get the services they need at critical developmental junctures. Their parents also miss less time at work and families aren’t threatened by medical bankruptcy. Healthy children are more likely to be on track to become successful adults, which is good for all of us.

If we want this progress to last, we need to protect our children’s care by supporting the programs that cover them and opposing the policies that weaken them. With Children’s Health Insurance Program funding set to expire in the fall, preserving Medicaid funding is more important than ever. But the American Health Care Act would reduce Medicaid spending by $800 billion over 10 years and end Medicaid expansion by 2020, potentially reversing the impressive gains in children’s health care coverage and leaving many children without health insurance.

Changes to the Medicaid program would render Maine unable to care for the children and families in our state the way we do now.

Research shows that parent and child health care coverage is linked, despite differences in eligibility. When parents lose coverage, their children tend to go without coverage, even if they are eligible for coverage through programs such as Medicaid. Children also need healthy parents or guardians to raise them, which is just another reason why quality, affordable health care coverage is so critical.

To put it simply, the American Health Care Act is bad for Maine children and families. Instead of taking health care away from people, we should be investing in those things that help to lift people out of poverty, such as early childhood education and child care, mental health services and job training.

If we want Maine to have a prosperous future, we need our future generation to remain healthy so they can reach their full potential. Protecting the programs that make this happen are critical to our state.

The American Health Care Act puts a target on Maine families — particularly children and seniors — and will undermine the health of our state’s next generation. All of us will pay the price if such a short-sighted and dangerous piece of legislation becomes law.

Claire Berkowitz is the executive director of the Maine Children’s Alliance.

 


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