Having grown up in a family that could not afford health care, I know how difficult it can be to go to a doctor when you need one.
That's one of the reasons I worked on health insurance reform. No person in the United States should go without care when they need it.
I remember an afternoon in October 1951 when my 10-year-old brother Larry fell off his bike and broke his leg. There was no money for a doctor. His leg was never set, and it eventually healed crooked.
Doctor visits were not an option in my home -- not for us kids and not for my parents either. My mother's teeth fell out one by one because she never could pay to see a dentist. She had to gum her food and couldn't eat the meat we had, so we ate a lot of beans and rice.
Last year's health insurance reform law provides benefits to seniors on Medicare, people with preexisting and chronic conditions, and small businesses. We have eliminated lifetime limits and made preventive care more affordable.
When writing the law, we knew it would take time to implement, and we worked to minimize the number of people who would have lost coverage before health insurance reform was fully enacted. We provided funding for employers to continue early retiree coverage and gave tax credits to small businesses -- both groups were susceptible to losing coverage in the current system.
And we wanted to ensure that low-income children, the elderly, and people with disabilities would be protected, so we included an important provision requiring states to keep Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance (CHIP) strong. It prevents states from cutting Medicaid coverage for adults prior to January 1, 2014 and protects children's coverage in Medicaid and CHIP through 2019.
Unfortunately, my Republican colleagues have introduced a bill that would unravel these stability protections, possibly denying hundreds of thousands of women and children access to health care provided through Medicaid and eliminating or cutting the Children's Health Insurance Program, depending on the state.
Republicans argue that cutting kids and parents from Medicaid saves money. In fact, such cuts would prove quite costly. Hospitals, community health care centers, and other providers would have increasing rates of uncompensated care, leading to increased costs for everyone else.
By 2013, 400,000 deserving people -- two-thirds of them children -- would lose vital health care services under the Republican plan, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The stakes get even higher in 2014. That's when Medicaid will expand. The lowest-income citizens will be eligible for Medicaid coverage. We will truly see a decline in the uninsured in this country. But if the Republican plan becomes law, the Congressional Budget Office estimates 1.7 million children would lose health insurance by 2016. Half the states could entirely eliminate their CHIP programs, while remaining states would dangerously roll back coverage.
Medicaid and CHIP provide care for Americans who cannot afford it. Most recipients are women and children. The Republican plan would let states drastically limit enrollment and eligibility rates -- and must be opposed.
There are a lot of people today who are just like my mother and brother -- people who cope with unnecessary pain because they lack money. In Nevada, for instance, nearly 250,000 people rely on health services through Medicaid that they otherwise could not afford.
Medicaid and CHIP exist to provide mothers and children, among others, the safety net they need. These programs have helped reduce the child uninsured rate by more than half, to less than 10 percent, over the last decade. Without them, the health of low-income Americans would be much worse.
Helping people treat conditions that may become life-threatening is far less costly than helping people whose conditions have already reached a critical stage.
This July marks the 46th anniversary of Medicaid, an opportunity to reflect on the millions of Americans whose lives are supported or saved, thanks to its existence.
There is no better way to mark this anniversary than by making sure we keep Medicaid strong and viable, and oppose attempts to weaken it.
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