Commentary by Marian Wight Edelman, President, Children's Defense Fund
WASHINGTON - In 2010, there was finally good news for millions of uninsured children and families when the President and Congress took a major step towards ensuring affordable and comprehensive health coverage for millions of children and families in America. With the passage of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the Affordable Care Act), more than 35 million Americans including more than 95 percent of children will have access to the critical health coverage they need to survive and thrive. Among other important protections, the Affordable Care Act prohibits insurers from denying health coverage to children who desperately need it—those already sick with “pre-existing conditions.” Children like Katie H. in Texas who suffers from severe seizure-like attacks that last as long as 11 hours caused by an undiagnosed neuro-developmental disorder. Katie is also deaf in one ear, has a feeding disorder, and requires daily medication for asthma. In her short life, she has already made numerous visits to the emergency room and had several hospital stays.
When Katie lost her health coverage her father tried to buy private insurance through his employer but he couldn’t afford the nearly $1,000 a month cost, about 30 percent of his salary. No other private insurer would offer the family coverage for Katie due to her pre-existing conditions. Today millions of children like Katie will be able to receive the health coverage they need to grow up healthy or in less pain because of protections in the Affordable Care Act. In our wealthy nation no child should be born at low birthweight, at risk of future health and learning difficulties, because of preventable causes, or die in the first year of life because their mothers did not have adequate prenatal or postnatal care. Undiagnosed, untreated, and poorly managed health and mental health problems increase a child’s chances of falling behind in school or having disciplinary problems and lower a child’s chances of succeeding in and out of school. Without access to comprehensive, affordable health care, more children will do poorly in school at a time when we need to be improving our global competitiveness. Good health at birth and throughout childhood is essential for them as children and as productive future workers.
Ensuring children access to comprehensive health coverage is one of the smartest, most cost-effective choices our country can make. The hidden costs of not insuring children include high costs of uncompensated care for those without insurance; use of costly emergency room care instead of early access to primary care; long term treatment of preventable illnesses; and the costs of untreated emotional problems in children whose unmet needs bring them to the child welfare or juvenile justice systems.
Millions of children and families are already depending on the protections in the Affordable Care Act and millions more will do so as the act is implemented over the next few years. That these new and long overdue protections are now subject to a repeal attempt by some members of the new Congress is a travesty. A vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act is a vote to deny at least 16 million children, parents, and childless adults eligibility for Medicaid; threaten the successful Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which now provides more than seven million children health coverage and is expected to double in size by 2015; and deny health coverage for the more than 1.2 million young adults now eligible for coverage through their parents’ health plans as they graduate from school and seek work up to age 26. A vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act would undermine opportunities for help for hundreds of thousands of children with disabilities and other special needs. It would permit insurance companies to unjustly deny health coverage again to children like Katie with pre-existing conditions and set annual limits and lifetime caps on their coverage. A vote to repeal new health care reforms threatens our children’s and taxpayers’ financial futures. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont) said in a press release, “the House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act would increase America’s deficit by $230 billion in just ten years. And then, it would increase the deficit by a cost equal to half a percent of our entire economy—more than one trillion dollars—in the ten years that follow. That’s a cost America’s children and grandchildren just can’t afford.”Our nation must protect the long overdue and major gains for children and families in the Affordable Care Act. The law is already helping children and families and stopping some of the most egregious abuses of health insurers. Why would any sensible person want to go backwards and take these protections away?