Progress for Children's Health Threatened by Proposals to Cut Medicaid, Training for Pediatricians
ALEXANDRIA, Va., July 19, 2011/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- One step forward, two steps back. So say families who are traveling to Washington in July to ask Congress to protect pediatric care in the United States. Almost 30 families are traveling to the nation's capital to flag potential new barriers to pediatric health care as part of the National Association of Children's Hospitals (N.A.C.H.) Family Advocacy Day.
Although decades of advocacy have yielded strides that have improved children's access to coverage, the infrastructure that ensures access to care has sustained serious blows in 2011. Most significantly, proposals to slash funding for Medicaid, the largest health care program for children in the country, have gained traction. Additionally, the Obama Administration's fiscal year 2012 budget called on Congress to eliminate funding for the Children's Hospitals Graduate Medical Education Program (CHGME), a federal program that helps children's hospitals train 40 percent of all pediatricians and 43 percent of pediatric specialists.
"Budget realities are tough right now and hard choices have to be made. But slashing or defunding children's health care today will cost us exponentially more tomorrow," said Lawrence McAndrews, president and CEO of N.A.C.H. "The decisions that are made during this Congress will determine the future of our nation's sickest children."
Survey data show that few people fully understand the extent to which Medicaid is a children's program. Medicaid is most often associated with nursing home care or care for the disabled. However, data from children's hospitals show that half of all child patients in children's hospitals are covered under Medicaid and, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, one in three children overall is covered by Medicaid.
Children like Maryn Leland, a 4-year-old girl from Arlington, VA, highlight the need to protect programs and ensure families can quickly access quality care. Diagnosed with the genetic disease Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Deficiency (PDH), Maryn faces many challenges, including deafness, blindness, epilepsy and severe developmental delays. With her Medicaid coverage, she has been able to successfully access highly specialized care at HSC Pediatric Center. Thanks to eight weeks of treatment and rehabilitation, as well as ongoing care, Maryn is able to sit upright, roll over, communicate with pictures and verbalizations, drink from a sippy cup and walk with assistance.
"Maryn has needed an incredible amount of expert care from a very young age. She is a fighter and the care she is getting gives her the best chance at recovering from her very complex health problems," said Maryn's mother, Kim Leland. "I don't know that we would have had a fighting shot without Medicaid."
Over the past year, Congress has implemented a number of positive changes for American families, including banning lifetime caps under private insurance and preventing private insurers from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions. Yet, pediatric programs are on the congressional chopping block.
Funding for the CHGME program in the current fiscal year (FY 2011) was reduced by Congress and the Obama Administration by $48 million, from $317.5 million to $270 million, even though the program has successfully increased the number of physicians who care for children. In light of a nationwide shortage of pediatric specialists, a funding cut to the only federal program dedicated to training pediatricians is shortsighted, according to N.A.C.H.
"There's no ambiguity here. Failure to fund CHGME will mean fewer of the pediatricians and pediatric specialists on whom our nation's youngest patients rely," said McAndrews.
Additionally, threats to Medicaid loom as Congress discusses proposals to cut the program's funding by $1 trillion over the next decade and impose a cap on the amount the federal government can contribute. These proposed cuts would likely impede innovative programs, including community and early-intervention programs designed to keep children out of hospitals, as well as other programs designed to reduce costs, said McAndrews. He added that while the effects of these cuts may not emerge immediately, communities are likely to feel the impact over time.
On average, Medicaid payments to providers are currently 30 percent less than Medicare payments for comparable care. The consequences of the disparity were highlighted in a study published in the June 2011 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. The research, conducted by the University of Pennsylvania using a "secret shopper" approach, showed that children covered under Medicaid were unable to obtain an appointment two-thirds of the time. For those on Medicaid who were able to obtain an appointment, the wait was an average of 22 days longer than for children covered under private insurance.
"Medicaid was designed as a safety net, but poking holes in it will only cause it to fail the most vulnerable among us – children," said McAndrews. "We already see fewer physicians who are willing to take Medicaid, and cuts to both Medicaid and CHGME will mean families will have longer waits and fewer choices."
To spotlight these issues, the children and families will meet with their lawmakers to share their personal stories and convey the crucial need to support pediatric care. This grassroots effort is part of the N.A.C.H. Family Advocacy Day taking place July 25-26 in the nation's capital.
Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives (H.R. 1852) and the Senate (S. 958) to reauthorize funding for CHGME for five additional years at up to $330 million per year, efforts welcomed by advocates for children. Families will ask for stable CHGME funding for fiscal year 2012.
About the National Association of Children's Hospitals
The National Association of Children's Hospitals – N.A.C.H. – is the public policy affiliate of the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions (NACHRI). N.A.C.H. is a trade organization of 140 children's hospitals and supports children's hospitals in addressing public policy issues that affect their ability to fulfill their missions to serve children and their families. N.A.C.H. fulfills its mission and vision through federal advocacy, collaboration and communication designed to strengthen the ability of children's hospitals and health systems to influence public policy makers, understand federal and state policy issues, advance access and quality of health care for all children, and sustain financially their missions of clinical care, education, research and advocacy.
For more information on Family Advocacy Day, visit www.childrenshospitals.net or follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/National-Association-of-Childrens-Hospitals/69789157983 or Twitter, @speaknowforkids, #FAD11.
Jones Public Affairs
SOURCE National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions