Newshub headline with Children's Wisconsin logo
Doctor examining child

Don’t forget the kids as you debate a new health care bill

What about our kids? As Congress considered changes to the Affordable Care Act, I was increasingly alarmed about the lack of attention and debate on the risks the changes to Medicaid posed to children’s health.

The health care debates of the past decade have focused on adults — their coverage, their benefits and how to pay for it. Medicaid, providing health care for 70 million Americans, has been central in both the ACA and the proposed American Health Care Act, but debate and dialogue predominately has focused on adult beneficiaries.

The fact is that nearly half of our country’s children, 36 million, receive some form of health care coverage through Medicaid and the related Children’s Health Insurance Program. Children make up only 20% of the cost of the Medicaid program — and yet, when recent efforts to reform Medicaid and cut costs were debated, the impact those changes would have on kids were swept aside.

In Wisconsin, nearly 500,000 kids use Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program to access primary and specialty health care, dental care and mental health care. Some kids— have such complex illnesses that private insurance is not an option. It’s not just “somebody else’s kids” who rely on Medicaid for health care access — it’s your neighbor who was diagnosed with cancer, your child’s classmate with a heart condition, your co-worker’s baby born prematurely. Medicaid is a vital safety net for parents that are faced with the unthinkable reality that their child’s health or life is at risk. And for the vast majority of children covered by Medicaid, current coverage provides access to evidence-based preventative care that keeps kids well and their cost of care low.

We have a track record in Wisconsin of providing access to the health care kids need while managing costs. The state has invested in innovative programs specifically designed to meet the complex needs of some our most vulnerable children, including those enrolled in foster care and with special health care needs. However, there is more work to be done especially as it relates to addressing the mental and social factors that have a significant impact on child health.

Investing in children’s health via Medicaid produces benefits that pay off into adulthood. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that children who receive health insurance are healthier, live longer and work more than children who do not have health insurance. Protecting kids now produces a healthier population and healthier workforce of the future.

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is the largest health care provider in the state for kids. About 55% of our patients are covered by Medicaid. Our doctors, nurses and staff have a front-line view of how many children depend on Medicaid to receive life-saving care. We call on you to help us speak up for them. Kids don’t vote — but our elected officials still need to protect their welfare. Any effort to reform Medicaid must address the unique characteristics of children, the largest beneficiaries of the program, and ensure that changes do not undermine our state’s ability to invest in reforms to improve child health outcomes. On behalf of the tens of thousands of families we serve, and the 36 million children around the country who do not have a voice at the table, let’s join together to make children the priority they should be.

Visit the Children’s Advocacy Network (C.A.N.) to learn how to contact your elected officials and make a difference in the lives of children. Join the C.A.N. action e-list and get alerts when your involvement can make a critical difference.