I have lived in the Kansas City area and practiced pediatrics here for the past 30 years. I know this community, and I know the families who come see me throughout their children’s lives. I am there for their developmental milestones and diagnosis and treatment of chronic conditions, and I am there to help families make difficult choices during trying moments. My practice in Kansas City, Kan., sees patients with all types of coverage — private insurance, Medicaid and even those who are uninsured. Fortunately, in Kansas, that last number is historically low, just 5 percent.
Over the years, I have seen time and again how important it is for our kids to have access to affordable, comprehensive health care coverage. Since 1965, our Kansas Medicaid program has provided this for an ever-increasing number of children, more than 280,000. The U.S. Senate’s recently unveiled health care legislation, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, does not live up to its name. The sweeping, unprecedented cuts to Medicaid included in the bill would fundamentally change the way the program works and would leave children and families worse off.
Children make up 70 percent of Kansas’ Medicaid population, and Medicaid is there for them. Through Medicaid, children receive well-child visits, vaccines, early treatment for illnesses and chronic medical conditions, therapies and hospital care when needed, which are so important if kids are going to be ready and able to succeed in school and in life. Medicaid benefits are also designed with children’s unique needs in mind to cover essential screenings and all the services that they need.
In my practice, more than 50 percent of my newborns and more than 40 percent of my entire practice are covered by Medicaid. In fact, 35 percent of all children in small towns and rural areas receive health care coverage through Medicaid.
Also, more than 42 percent of children with disabilities and special needs, such as diabetes, congenital heart disease, cerebral palsy and genetic disorders are covered by Medicaid. These children’s lives literally depend on the program.
Capping Medicaid funding, as the Senate health care bill proposes, is not the way forward. Capping Medicaid means Kansas would be responsible for any dollar amount over the fixed cap provided by the federal government to cover patients in our state, instead of the current state-federal flexible partnership model we have now.
Kansas currently has a waiting list for people with disabilities. If the state were asked to cover more because the federal government would not, patients would not be able to access the care they need.
Capping Medicaid does not account for unexpected public health crises like Zika, or economic recessions causing people to switch from employer-sponsored insurance to Medicaid, as we experienced in 2008-2009. Capping Medicaid would force states to make devastating cuts in order to stay afloat financially — scaling back the benefits our children need, cutting people from the program or otherwise making it no longer meet the needs of the population it’s intended to serve.
Unfortunately, not all children are able to grow up to be adults, but every adult was once a child. We as adults should strive to make sure that every child is given the opportunity to do and be their best as they grow up. I urge Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts to protect Medicaid by opposing significant cuts and caps, and in so doing, protect Kansas’ children.
Pam Shaw, MD, is past president of the Kansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and serves on the Board of the American Academy of Pediatrics.