THE BLOG
01/02/2013 10:51 am ET Updated Mar 04, 2013

Medicaid: A Stepping Stone, Not a Stigma

We hear a lot about Medicaid in both the local and national media. It is oftentimes classified as a free program for those disinterested in working and paying their fair share, making it one of the most misunderstood and misperceived programs on the books. With the recent election, many are left to wonder, what's next -- will the program be expanded to included a broader patient population or will the status quo remain? Regardless of what comes next, one fact remains the same -- more and more children will continue to need health care coverage.

Today, one out of every 11 children in the U.S. lives in Texas, and we expect that number to increase significantly over the next several years. Of those, a significant number are uninsured yet eligible for coverage. These are the constituents who will be lost, who will fall through the cracks if Medicaid dollars are not protected and future investments are not made. Medicaid is widely misunderstood resulting in an unfair stigma to be cast upon those children and families who utilize this joint federal-state program.

As the largest and most comprehensive children's health system in the nation, Texas Children's Hospital serves more Medicaid patients than any other pediatric hospital in the state, and we are seeing an interesting trend. The face of Medicaid is changing.

Medicaid covers one out of three children in our state and country. The majority of these children come from working families whose income cannot keep pace with normal living expenses. In the current economic environment where the unemployment rate is rising and where employers are no longer able to provide quality health insurance, it is becoming increasingly difficult for many families, including those in the middle class, to make ends meet. It is harder for these families to provide the same level of health care coverage for their children compared with previous years, negatively impacting the Houston community.

It is imperative that everyone across the nation understand the purpose of Medicaid -- that it is not for people who do not want to work or are simply looking for a handout. Medicaid is a safety net for everyone because we are all one medical crisis or catastrophic event away from financial ruin. It is a stepping stone for people when the unexpected occurs. It is for the middle class, for the financially stable, and even for those who once considered themselves upper class. If you have worked during your life, Medicaid is a program you helped fund and one that is available to you and your children when you need it the most. But few know exactly what that means.

To be clear, Medicaid covers more than just low-income families, it covers children, pregnant women, the elderly and the significantly disabled. And, it will cover you if ever necessary.

Cutting Medicaid would be disastrous for this country. Without the safety net of Medicaid and, similarly, the Children's Health Insurance Plan, children would lack even the most basic health services. It would displace scores of families and children into a world of medical uncertainty. Cutting Medicaid reduces services for families with children with special needs, many of whom remain on private insurance, though the astronomical costs of their daily care would be financially debilitating without support from Medicaid. A cut to Medicaid would impact children who may never have to use it because countless programs and initiatives are made possible as a result of Medicaid and its associated research.

The simple truth is that our federal and state governments save money by investing in healthcare. Children who grow up with regular health examinations, immunizations and care for childhood illnesses are more likely to become adults who are healthy and productive taxpayers. Treatment in hospital emergency rooms cost up to seven times as much as a simple office visit. Slashing funding not only hurts Medicaid recipients, but also adversely impacts key programs and initiatives that benefit all children. We must remain focused on the children and make sure that every child has access to quality healthcare. As adults it is our responsibility to protect our children, to protect all children. Investments in our children's health are investments in our society's future.

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