John R. Phillips: Saving Medicaid means saving WV kids’ lives

By By Dr. John R. Phillips
Dr. John R. Phillips

When Jimmy Kimmel shared the personal story of his newborn son, Billy, who was born with a life-threatening heart condition, he revealed to the public the private suffering of parents of children with congenital heart disease.

As a pediatric cardiologist in West Virginia, I have treated many children like Billy. The care, procedures and surgeries that my colleagues and I provide save children’s lives. Yet these treatments are only possible if the child has health care coverage that allows the family to afford them in the first place.

Every year, more than 300 lifesaving cardiac surgeries and procedures are performed on West Virginia’s most vulnerable children with heart disease. I am truly amazed by the resilience and strength of these children and their families. There is always a new challenge for them to face, whether it’s another surgery, a setback from an illness or insurmountable medical bills that aren’t covered by their insurance plan.

The medical treatment necessary to save these children, and those like Billy, would bankrupt most families in West Virginia. Fortunately, Medicaid is there when families have nowhere else to turn.

Medicaid covers 54 percent of children in West Virginia who have disabilities or other special health care needs, like juvenile diabetes, congenital heart conditions or asthma. Medicaid also covers big-ticket items like hospital stays, surgeries and prescriptions.

Just as important are the 228,000 West Virginia children who, through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, receive preventive services, immunizations, dental care and routine screenings shown to make them healthier, miss fewer days of school, get better grades, be more likely to graduate college and be more likely to earn higher wages than their uninsured peers.

With 87 percent of West Virginia’s kids living in or near poverty level, Medicaid ensures the basic right of children to have a chance to be healthy and productive members of our community — and to simply be kids.

Medicaid has had West Virginians’ backs. Now, it’s time for us to defend Medicaid, as it is currently under attack in Congress. The House of Representatives recently passed a bill, the American Health Care Act, that would cut more than $800 billion in federal funding from Medicaid.

Seventy-nine percent of all federal funding West Virginia receives is for the Medicaid program. These cuts would have a real impact on our state’s ability to meet the health care needs of the children, seniors and those with disabilities who rely on Medicaid. Children with special health needs would be among those facing the greatest risk.

Some in Congress argue that these changes to Medicaid would give states more “flexibility” to run their Medicaid programs, but the reality is that Medicaid is already flexible. For example, when public health crises like the opioid epidemic plagued West Virginia families, more citizens enrolled in Medicaid, and Medicaid was there, adjusting to meet the unique needs of our state.

In contrast, the proposed changes to Medicaid in the American Health Care Acct would lay the burden of these unforeseen costs on the shoulders of West Virginia taxpayers, leaving the health of our children at risk.

Our children deserve better. So, we ask that all West Virginians join the members of the West Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics in relying on Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Sen. Joe Manchin to defend Medicaid and protect all children. Their lives depend on it.

Dr. John R. Phillips is president of the American Academy of Pediatrics West Virginia Chapter, Section Chief of Pediatric Cardiology at WVU Medicine Children’s hospital and a Professor of Pediatrics at WVU.

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