We Must Preserve Health Care Reform

Katie H. in Texas suffers severe seizure-like attacks that last as long as 11 hours, caused by an undiagnosed neuro-developmental disorder. She’s also deaf in one ear, has an eating 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 at $1,000 a month–30 percent of his salary–he couldn’t afford it. No other private insurer would offer the family coverage for Katie due to her pre-existing conditions.

Thanks to the landmark health care reform law Congress approved last year, millions of children like Katie will get the health coverage they need to grow up healthy.

Known officially as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the hard-fought changes President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010 marked a major step toward ensuring affordable and comprehensive health coverage for millions of children and families in America. It will give more than 35 million Americans 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.”

In our wealthy nation, no child should be born at risk of future health and learning difficulties because of preventable causes. Infants shouldn’t die in their first year of life because their mothers lacked adequate prenatal or postnatal care.

Undiagnosed, untreated, and poorly managed health problems increase a child’s chances of falling behind in school or having disciplinary problems, thus lowering a child’s chances of succeeding in and out of school. Without 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 already depend on the protections in the Affordable Care Act. Millions more will do so as the law’s provisions are implemented in the coming years. It’s a travesty that these new and long overdue protections are under attack. Every House Republican, joined by three Democrats, voted on January 19 to repeal them. The Senate’s unlikely to follow suit, but GOP lawmakers intend to make it impossible to fund.

Their votes could potentially deny at least 16 million children, parents, and childless adults eligibility for Medicaid; threaten the successful Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that 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.

Rescinding these reforms would undermine opportunities to help hundreds of thousands of children with disabilities and other special needs. It would again permit insurance companies to unjustly deny health coverage to children like Katie with pre-existing conditions and set annual limits and lifetime caps on their coverage.

Repeal efforts make no economic sense and would threaten our children’s and taxpayers’ financial futures. Repealing the health care law would increase America’s deficit by $230 billion in just one decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

Our nation must protect these long-overdue gains for children and families. Our health care reform is already helping children and families and stopping some of the most egregious abuses committed by health insurance companies. Why would any sensible person want to take these protections away?

Marian Wright Edelman is the president of Children’s Defense Fund. www.childrensdefense.org