Medicaid Cuts Would Hurt 4.5 Million California Kids

Medicaid Cuts Would Hurt 4.5 Million California Kids

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Two bills introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) recently would repeal a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the federal health reform law passed in 2010, that requires states to maintain current eligibility and enrollment criteria for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). These provisions ensure stability and maintain enrollment levels in Medi-Cal -- the sate’s name for the Medicaid program -- and Healthy Families, California’s name for the CHIP program.

Both programs have played a central role in California successful efforts to reduce the number of uninsured children. That’s why repealing these important provisions of the ACA is absolutely wrong. It would jeopardize the health coverage of 4.5 million California children who rely on these two programs to get preventive care and see a doctor when they are sick. They are a lifeline to California families who continue to struggle with unemployment and reductions in family health coverage on the job.

The debate in Congress over federal spending and the debt ceiling limit have resulted in proposals to significantly restructure the Medicaid program. Its direct impact would turn Medicaid from an open-ended federal entitlement program to a block grant program. It would also cap the total amount of federal spending which, in turn, will cut back funding for Medicaid. Both the block grant and spending cap proposals would leave the state holding the bag.

Under the guise of fiscal soundness and ostensibly giving states more flexibility to operate their Medicaid and CHIP programs, these proposals would essentially encourage states to kick children (and their parents, and seniors, and the disabled) off cost-efficient health programs. Or, alternatively, the states could shoulder the additional costs shifted from the federal government in order to keep the programs intact. But for cash-strapped California, that could spell disaster.

Not only is this proposal seriously bad public policy, it is bad fiscal policy – especially at a time when families and governments across the country are trying to dig themselves out of the Great Recession. Furthermore, the decisions we make for our children today will have a lasting effect on their future and the future of our economy. We know that children without access to preventive care are more likely to use emergency rooms and be hospitalized for illnesses that could perhaps have been prevented. The resulting cost to taxpayers would be more than monthly premium payments to Medi-Cal and Healthy Families.

That’s why it seems so strange that there is even a discussion about finding “savings” and fiscal footing by making health care programs less able to take care of the children they were created to serve. And it’s not just me who feels this way. A recent national poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner found a majority of voters opposed to allowing states flexibility with Medicaid dollars, if it could result in offering insurance coverage for children.

Members of Congress should listen to the people and to common sense and find ways to address budget and fiscal issues at the national level without sacrificing the health and future of our kids.

Mike Odeh is a health policy advocate with Children Now.