Clarion Ledger, April 29, 2007
Children’s health: Numbers scary
Astoundingly, the Public Policy Center of Mississippi says thousands of children have been removed from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program between January 2005 and March 2007.
The advocacy groups blame face-to-face meetings required as Medicaid eligibility requirements in 2005 to ensure only those qualified and in need of services received them.
The application process should be easier, not harder, argues Dr. Tami Brooks, a Jackson pediatrician and legislative chairwoman for the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “If parents work and can’t afford it or if they don’t work, don’t punish the children,” she says.
Certainly, Gov. Haley Barbour, whose Medicaid office directs the program, is right to want to deter fraud, but so is Dr. Brooks that the broadest access is in the interest of children’s health.
Each year, Mississippi ranks among the lowest in the nation for health and particularly children’s health, the result of personal behaviors, work and home environments, and public health policies. Education, poverty and incidence of preventable disease are major issues for the rank.
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Providing maximum state funding to Medicaid for the poor and CHIP, which covers children of the working poor, or those who work but do not receive employer-provided health insurance, is one of the best investments the state can make.
It makes budget sense in that for every 17 cents in state money, the federal government pays 83 cents. And it saves long term by providing preventive medicine, including wellness regimens, vaccines and checkups.
Well children also do better in school, a benefit that shows up much later for productive citizens. And CHIP targets a segment that is critical for the state’s future, culturally and economically: the able-bodied work force.
If anything, the state should be expanding health insurance.
In fact, a recent study by the Lewin Group, a national health-care consulting firm based in Falls Church, Va., recommended expanding Medicaid and offering tax credits to small businesses to make insurance affordable. It is more difficult to obtain medical coverage through Medicaid in Mississippi than in other states, said the study’s author, Randall Haught. And, perhaps worse, as the numbers of dropped children tells, Mississippi is the only state requiring face-to-face meetings.
It is essential that the easiest access possible be provided for parents to enroll eligible children. There should be ongoing, affirmative efforts to sign up children.
The idea should be to expand children’s health care coverage, not cut it.