Medicaid cuts put kids’ future in peril

PRAFUL U. BHATT

Lock Haven

Another season of graduations, with caps and gowns and proud families, is behind us.

But as a long-time pediatrician in Lock Haven and surrounding communities and a clinical assistant professor at Lock Haven University and Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine watching a new generation enter the next phase of their lives, I know that so much goes into preparing children for adulthood.

These children get medical checkups starting when they are just days old to monitor their development and help keep them on track for learning. They receive screenings to detect any vision and hearing problems, or any hidden disabilities that could keep them from succeeding in school. And others require treatment and medication to manage serious illnesses.

Health and education have always been tied together: Healthy children are more likely to attend school regularly, graduate from high school and go on to college. That means they’re more likely to find the kinds of jobs they need to make a decent living, and to give back to their community.

The converse is also true. Students who can’t get the care they need struggle to succeed in school–and are more likely to suffer serious health problems when they’re adults.

So, I’m concerned right now by what Congress is trying to do to our health care system. The American Health Care Act (AHCA) that passed the House of Representatives last month and is before the Senate would boot as many as 23 million people nationwide off health insurance and would fundamentally change the way Medicaid works.

Through a federal-state partnership, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) have managed to drastically reduce the number of uninsured kids across Pennsylvania.

In Clinton County, 35 percent of our kids rely on Medicaid and CHIP for their care.

Now the federal government wants to change the rules of the partnership and cap what it spends on Medicaid in Pennsylvania, dumping more costs on our already strapped state government. That leaves Harrisburg forced to decide whether to cut health care or to reduce spending on other priorities, like education.

All of this is particularly important for rural communities. According to new data from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families, 40 percent of kids in rural Pennsylvania get health care through Medicaid. This new research shows that a bigger share of Pennsylvania residents in small towns and rural areas receive help from Medicaid than in urban areas.

Together, Medicaid, CHIP and the Affordable Care Act have reduced Pennsylvania’s uninsured rate for children to just 4.1 percent. We are well on our way to insuring all Pennsylvania children.

We cannot afford to go backward.

And no matter how Congress spins it, there is no way to cut Medicaid without harming kids–our nation’s future high school graduates.

They need to put forth a health care plan that moves our state and nation forward.

(Praful U. Bhatt, M.D., FAAP, is a doctor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine in Lock Haven, and a clinical assistant professor at both Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine and Lock Haven University.)

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