Soapbox

Republican health bill is a disaster for all kids

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and other Democratic senators hold pictures of a health-care recipients for a press conference on the Capitol steps on Tuesday.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and other Democratic senators hold pictures of a health-care recipients for a press conference on the Capitol steps on Tuesday. The Washington Post

Much of the debate on the Senate Republican health care bill and the similar House bill focuses on the Medicaid expansion for adults. But this proposal would be a disaster for America’s children.

Medicaid funding to support children’s health care would be limited, ending a 50-year state-federal partnership that has served the sickest and neediest kids in our communities. While the bill exempts about 1.6 million disabled children, it would cap federal health care spending for about 30 million kids, many of whom have chronic and debilitating conditions like asthma and autism. Starting in 2025, growth in federal Medicaid funding would be capped at inflation, regardless of medical need. That means states will eventually be forced to cut services or remove children from the program.

These cuts will not only affect children on Medicaid. Because of the expertise involved, children with life-threatening, complex health conditions rely on the same specialists, regardless of who pays for their medical care. Pediatric experts who treat these children depend on public programs and private insurance, not one or the other.

For example, childhood cancer is thankfully rare enough that most communities depend upon a few or perhaps only one hospital for pediatric cancer patients. The Medicaid cuts in the Senate bill are so severe that they will threaten the ability of some hospitals to keep their doors open.

Children account for the largest share of the Medicaid program – almost half of enrollees. Yet they are the least expensive to cover, accounting for less than 20 percent of total costs. Moreover, research is clear that children who are covered by Medicaid have better health outcomes and miss school less often than children who have no access to health care. Slashing federal Medicaid support for children is short-sighted.

Adults may disagree about how to reform health care, but let’s at least agree that no reforms should come at the expense of our children.

Todd Suntrapak is president and CEO of Valley Children’s Hospital and board chairman of the California Children’s Hospital Association. He can be contacted at tsuntrapak@valleychildrens.org.

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