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Senator Merkley – GOP Senate health plan damage aimed squarely at children

Sen. Jeff Merkley
D-Oregon
U.S. Senate taking aim at children.

By Jeff Merkley and Tonia Hunt

We’ve been hearing a lot about winners and losers these days. Yet, even as our kids on the baseball or soccer fields may be winning trophies, they are in imminent danger of losing something much more important.

Children in Oregon and across the country risk losing health care coverage through Medicaid, and all of the benefits that accompany it, due to the Senate’s so-called “Better Care Reconciliation Act.”

The GOP plan provides huge tax breaks to the top 1 percent richest Americans, enough to actually raise their incomes by 2 percent.

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That’s more money for the already wealthy but but, in turn, it cuts financial aid that families need to obtain coverage. It cuts the average federal contribution over the next seven years to 57 percent of the actual cost of Medicaid, leaving states to pick up the tab or deny medical coverage. It allows radical cuts to which health services can be covered. In short, these drastic cuts to Medicaid and health services, along with huge financial benefits to the wealthy and cost-shifts to states, will result in millions of Americans — millions of children — losing coverage.

Here are five ways children could lose in the Senate’s plan:

First, as children account for 43 percent of all Medicaid enrollees, attacking the Medicaid expansion risks health coverage for more than 30 million children across the country who depend on it. In Oregon, more than 400,000 children receive their health care coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Gains made since 2008 in children’s health care coverage will be lost even though expanded eligibility and coverage has led to more children receiving the health care they so desperately need.

Dr. Anne McEachern
Dr. of Audiology
Sea Towne Shopping Center, Newport
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Second, rural children will be disproportionately affected by Medicaid cuts because poverty rates are higher in rural Oregon. The agriculture and small business jobs in these communities are less likely to offer insurance through employment. In fact, more than 9,000 children in Eastern Oregon’s Second Congressional District rely on Medicaid and CHIP for their coverage, which protects their families from financial risk. Children in both urban and rural areas thrive when they have primary and preventive care.

Third, children with pre-existing conditions will suffer. Although companies can’t charge sick children more for their coverage, they can cut which health conditions they cover. There will be no guarantee of mental health, dental, drug and addiction services, or even maternity care. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that maternity and mental health coverage will be dropped from many policies in many states, making them much more expensive for those who need them. That lack of accessibility would disproportionally harm those least able to afford them.

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Fourth, kids with severe disabilities will have fewer choices and less access to care when Medicaid is capped. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of all children with special health needs receive health insurance through Medicaid, CHIP or public coverage. Low-income families with disabled children rely on early screening, diagnosis and treatment. The Republicans’ plan slashes funding to pediatricians and children’s hospitals providing those services.

Fifth, caps on Medicaid are a calamitous cost-shift to Oregon, which is already overburdened financially. Make no mistake: Caps are cuts. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the “caps” amount to $772 billion in cuts. The Senate’s plan passes the buck to states and risks damaging kids, now and into the future. More than 50 years of data show that kids with Medicaid coverage have better health, fewer adolescent deaths, lower high school drop-out rates, higher college graduation rates and greater wealth and income. Gutting Medicaid will never bring Oregon the results its children deserve.

Don’t be fooled by the promises of legislators who want a “win” with this plan. Oregon’s kids will lose when Senate Republicans cap Medicaid and end essential benefits, leaving the most vulnerable Americans to pick up the tab, which they can’t.

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