Battles in our nation's capital are never pretty, but this current fight over the fiscal cliff is particularly painful for me to watch. Republican members of Congress insist on the urgent need to cut "entitlement programs" like Medicaid, continuing the rhetoric that pits "small business owners and middle class taxpayers" against "people who want to mooch off of the government and not pay taxes."
But who exactly are the entitled moochers who benefit from Medicaid? In fact, half of the Americans covered by Medicaid are children -- and one who is especially close to my heart is my 4-year-old son, Isaac.
Isaac was born at 28 weeks. That's 12 weeks early. He spent the first eight weeks of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit.
As a micro-preemie weighing only 2 pounds 5 ounces, Isaac was at risk for many, many life-threatening challenges. We were lucky, though, that he seemed to dodge bullet after bullet.
However, when he was five-and-half-months old, he caught a cold and abruptly stopped breathing. After receiving chest compressions and being intubated in the pediatric intensive care unit, it was determined that he had a malformation of the trachea. Isaac received a tracheostomy (a tube in his neck so that he could breathe) when he was six months old.
After a month in the hospital, we were allowed to take him home, but only with private duty nursing and enough medical equipment to turn our home into a mini-hospital. Eighteen months later, he underwent surgery to reconstruct his trachea. As a result, he is now a fairly typical 4-year-old, but the permanent damage to his lungs means that, when sick, he can sometimes require oxygen and always needs close monitoring, whether at home or the hospital.
Our insurance -- along with Medicaid (through a waiver program for medically fragile children) -- allowed us to have Isaac at home, with nursing care for those eighteen months he was trached. Without specialized, home-based medical equipment and this in-home nursing care, my husband and I would have not been able leave the house. Isaac was too fragile for typical childcare. Once our private insurance capped out and stopped providing benefits for medical supplies and nursing, Medicaid took over. This coverage allowed my husband and I to work and to pay taxes... to be productive contributors to the nation's economy.
My family's story about Medicaid shows how keeping Medicaid strong is not only morally the right thing to do, but also an effective way to keep families on solid economic footing. One bill from a particularly bad day in the pediatric intensive care unit came to $142,000. That's not an expense Joe Blow Small Business Owner can afford, even if he gets all the tax breaks in the history of tax breaks. It's not an expense a middle class family can afford, either, even with savings accounts and retirement accounts to plunder.
A strong Medicaid program makes fiscal sense for our country as a whole. Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program ensure that one-third of our nation's children have access to the preventive care they need. This preventative care can address health problems early before they develop into expensive health crises. Uninsured children are 5 times more likely than insured children to use the emergency room as a regular source of care. Why? Because they are left with no other choice.
Cutting programs like Medicaid won't make health care costs magically disappear; it just shifts the costs to states. And states, like my state of Texas, simply can't afford to pick up the costs of lost federal funds if Medicaid is cut. Right now, Medicaid is structured so that the federal government automatically helps states to cover additional health care costs when needed, like during a recession, natural disaster, or health care crisis.
There are more financially sound ways to solve our fiscal woes -- ways that don't require throwing children's health benefits off a cliff. Defense experts such as Lawrence Korb, who served as assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, believe there is plenty of room to make cuts to defense spending. And in terms of federal spending that stimulates the economy, healthcare spending creates more jobs than defense spending. And what about raising more revenue? Close tax loopholes for corporations and raise the historically low tax rates for the wealthy.
When people insist that we have to cut Medicaid in order to solve our budget problems, I ask them to take a hard look at their own family budgets.
Do you have enough in your savings account to pay $142,000 for a stay in the intensive care unit? Multiply that amount by two, by five, by ten. Can your assets support that kind of money? Even if they can't cover that kind of money, will your assets still preclude you from qualifying for Medicaid? What would you do? Would you have to go bankrupt before you could get medical coverage? This would have happened to my family had it not been for a Medicaid waiver program for chronically ill children.
To find out what is happening in your state re children's health coverage see, http://www.kidswellcampaign.org/.