Child Health

“Saving Medicaid – an Urgent Sos”

This is an urgent SOS. Right now Republican Senators are working behind closed doors on their own version of the terrible American Health Care Act (AHCA) passed by the House of Representatives in early May that would rip away health coverage from 23 million people. They plan to vote on a Senate bill just before they leave Washington for the July 4th recess. We can’t tell you everything that’s in it because Senate leadership is keeping its bill secret and doesn’t plan to reveal it until just before they vote. But we know it’s bad — ending Medicaid as we know it. Your help is needed right now to keep Senators from moving forward with this terrible health plan! More than 50 years of progress made in expanding and improving comprehensive child-appropriate health coverage for children across America hangs in the balance. Everybody who cares about children needs to mobilize as you have never mobilized before and raise a ruckus to save children’s health care safety net.

When Medicaid was first created in 1965 it provided children with a range of services necessary to treat acute and long-term health conditions, but there was no pediatric- and development-specific benefit. A 1964 government study found 50 percent of military draftees were rejected as a result of poor physical and mental health that could have been diagnosed and successfully treated in childhood and adolescence. The realization that children’s health was a national security issue led to a sea change for children. In 1967 Medicaid added the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit for children up to age 21 to meet their unique and developmental health needs, guaranteeing children a full range of comprehensive primary and preventive care and access to all medically necessary health and mental health services.

Since then we have been striving to live up to the promise of ensuring all young people are able to reach healthy adulthood — laboriously trying to expand coverage to more children thousands by thousands, millions by millions, state by state. Today, thanks to Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), 95 percent of children in America have health coverage — a historic high. Medicaid has evolved to be an essential part of the coverage system for children, ensuring 37 million children the health coverage they need to survive and thrive, including 40 percent of all children with special health care needs, and covering more than 40 percent of all births. Medicaid plays a critical role for children with special health care needs — for example, providing services throughout childhood to an infant born with a heart condition or a child with autism. For families struggling to find the financial resources needed to care for their children with disabilities, Medicaid is a lifeline and often the only viable source of financing for their children’s extensive and expensive health care needs. For some children with complex health conditions, Medicaid supplements private health coverage to ensure them access as they grow to needed specialized medical equipment and devices such as hearing aids and wheel chairs. Medicaid is also a valuable source of preventive services, helping children get the well-child visits and screenings they need to support healthy development and prevent expensive complications later.

By investing in child well-being now, our nation and economy will recoup huge benefits later. Medicaid is far more efficient and cost-effective than private insurance for children and research comparing children eligible for Medicaid during childhood to their non-eligible peers found Medicaid-eligible children were more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, make greater contributions as adult taxpayers, and live longer than those without coverage.

Yet despite more than 50 years of progress, improvements, and success, the Senate is on the verge of recklessly crafting a bill to repeal and replace the ACA and end Medicaid as we know it. Like the terrible AHCA bill in the House, Senate Republicans want to convert Medicaid to a “per capita cap,” which means changing Medicaid’s financing structure from a federal guarantee of coverage for all medically necessary services to an annual per person federal payment that does not increase regardless of the extent of use or cost. Please don’t let this misleading jargon fool you — this is emasculation of health coverage for up to 37 million children and a cut cloaked in confusion so people can’t see the magnitude of the damage it will do. For example, it claims to give states “more flexibility” but in reality will force states to increase their own spending dramatically, make deep cuts in benefits, or, more likely, both. Make no mistake: there is no way the Senate can design a Medicaid “per capita cap” or block grant that won’t harm low-income children and children with disabilities. Adults with disabilities, seniors, and others vulnerable Americans would be hurt too. Entire families will be affected. Simply put: Medicaid saves lives. And right now Medicaid’s life hangs in the balance propelled by greed, callousness and political opportunism. These cuts in Medicaid are being used to pay for tax cuts for the very wealthy. Children’s crucial health needs should not be a political plaything for any party at any time.

The time for you to tell your Senators that you will not stand for a bill being drafted in secret to end Medicaid as we know it is right now. The flood of phone calls generated by upset constituents when the House was first considering the AHCA must be repeated and increased dramatically and we urgently need you to flood the stealthy Senate with phone calls right now and flush them out of their hiding place. Tell your Senators not to let children move backwards and undermine the critical health care safety net. Urge your Senators specifically to reject any structural changes or cuts to Medicaid. America’s future depends on the health of our young and Medicaid works for children. In fact it works for multiple generations. We must not turn back the clock. Call, tweet, visit and organize right now to urge your Senators to protect Medicaid for America’s children and families and #KeepKidsCovered.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.