Opinion Columns & Blogs

GOP health plan puts California kids at grave risk

A child holds up a #Health4All poster during an event encouraging parents to enroll children in health-care coverage at Clinica Sierra Vista in Fresno on May 16, 2016.
A child holds up a #Health4All poster during an event encouraging parents to enroll children in health-care coverage at Clinica Sierra Vista in Fresno on May 16, 2016. The Fresno Bee file

As House GOP leaders continue to push a bill that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will leave 24 million Americans uninsured within a decade, too little is being said about how the American Health Care Act will affect our kids. The reality is that this new plan would be devastating for children.

While the AHCA is being sold as a replacement of the Affordable Care Act, instead it’s actually a fundamental restructuring of Medicaid, a necessary safety net program for more than half of kids in California. In the Central Valley, nearly two-thirds of children – 775,000 – are covered by Medi-Cal.

The proposed bill will cut a stunning $880 billion from the Medicaid system, leaving states, families, and providers to pick up the bill. The AHCA would achieve these cuts to Medicaid (called Medi-Cal in California) through a “per-capita cap,” limiting the amount of money that the federal government will pay per Medicaid enrollee.

A per-capita cap would be especially bad for California, due to several risk factors: Medi-Cal’s per-capita costs are already very low, the number of low-income seniors is growing in California at a rate twice that of the national average, and California’s growth in disabled Medi-Cal recipients is higher than average.

These three factors mean that Medi-Cal per-person costs will likely increase, while the federal reimbursement stays flat. California would be forced to pick up billions of dollars in costs that the feds refuse to share, or pit vulnerable populations against each other – for example, cutting kids’ coverage or benefits to pay for seniors.

That’s why, this week, when the state Assembly Health and Budget Committees hold an informational hearing on Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Fresno City Hall to examine the potential impacts of the AHCA on the Central Valley and our entire state, they need to hear that the ACHA is bad for kids, and what’s bad for kids is even worse for California’s future.

Research shows that children with health coverage miss fewer school days, do better academically, are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college, visit the emergency room and are hospitalized less often, and earn more money as adults.

As the sixth-largest economy in the world, California’s strong economic growth engine is dependent on a healthy and educated workforce; a sick generation of kids burdened by excessive health-care costs will imperil the state’s future financial health.

In December 2016, nearly 700 diverse organizations in California sent a letter to our state representatives in Congress, reminding them that it is their responsibility to do what’s right for kids – to be “Pro-Kid.” In the letter, delivered in person to Capitol offices, organizations and businesses from across California called on state leaders to protect health coverage for children and families.

California has worked tirelessly for the last two decades to transform itself from a state with nearly two million uninsured kids to one in which almost every single child has access to affordable health coverage.

Any new legislation must at the very least do no harm to kids. The AHCA does not clear that low bar.

Ted Lempert is president of Children Now, a national research and advocacy organization based in Oakland.