As a pediatrician, I know firsthand the role health care coverage plays in keeping our children, families and communities healthy. Like many of my colleagues, I am deeply concerned about the Senate health care bill and what it could mean for so many of my patients.
For more than 260,000 children and adults in Maine, MaineCare — Maine’s Medicaid program — is what lets them seek the health care and services they need to prosper. But this could all change under the Senate health care bill.
By cutting Medicaid funding, the Senate bill would put health care and services out of reach for millions of children who are either sick or from low-income households, and adults with disabilities. Although it is being written far away, it is certainly going to affect us in Belfast and the families I see all the time.
At my practice in Belfast, over half of my young patients rely on MaineCare or the Children’s Health Insurance Program for health coverage. As a result, they can get care when they are sick or injured, and they also can get the preventive care they need to stay developmentally on track. Well child care lets us screen for small problems when they’re still small, as well as keep vaccinations up to date.
There are already too many families struggling to figure out how they will pay their bills. If their children lose health care coverage, they will have to choose whether to bring their child to the doctor or to stay on top of their rent. How is anyone supposed to make that sort of decision?
Just last week I saw a child who was behind on his vaccines and had not had a check-up in over a year. And the story was far too common: “We lost our MaineCare, so we are behind on our check-ups, and our vaccinations. We have had nowhere to go for health care other than the emergency room.”
When fewer people have health care coverage, they are forced to seek medical care at the emergency room, the most expensive place to get care. With an increase in hospitals providing unpaid care, it is no wonder hospitals are closing and making cuts around the country and Maine. Cuts to Medicaid funding could be the final push that forces more rural hospitals to close — and Mainers cannot afford that.
MaineCare also plays an essential role in covering children with disabilities and complex health care needs. At the Pediatric Center for Feeding and Swallowing of Maine in Waldo County, I see a number of children with special needs — kids who have genetic disorders, preemies, and kids with heart disease in need of surgery. Most of them have coverage through MaineCare, and it is what keeps their families from severe economic distress. How many of us could pay for open heart surgery for our child?
For example, a couple of weeks ago, we saw a child who has a rare genetic mutation — he’s one of only 50 patients in the world identified with this condition. He was having trouble learning to eat and a variety of other issues, so we worked with him. But a family without insurance wouldn’t have access to the clinic. So, in some cases, losing your health insurance could mean you are unable to feed your baby.
Cuts to Medicaid will also have a huge impact on doctors’ offices all over the country. How can I plan for my business’ future if there’s a significant drop in payment and patients are not coming in because they can’t afford health care?
The bottom-line is that Medicaid cuts is an issue that’s going to confront families, hospitals and doctors in Waldo County. In fact, it’s going to confront every family on Medicaid, every hospital, and almost every doctor all over the country.
Medicaid is a crucial part of getting through everyday life for so many children and families in my practice and in the state. If we want to improve the health and well-being of our communities and our state, we need to protect Medicaid funding for our children, seniors and Mainers with disabilities.
Joseph H. Anderson is a pediatrician in practice at Belfast Pediatrics at the Waldo County General Hospital.