Don’t Throw Children Under the School Bus: Medicaid Is a Smart Investment in Our Nation’s Children
A wise teacher once told me that no matter how good of an educator you are, you can’t teach to an empty desk. If our nation is going to keep its competitive edge into the future, we need to keep our school desks full of healthy children who are ready to learn. In order to achieve that goal, we must ensure that all families can afford the developmental screenings and treatment pediatricians recommend so their children can grow up to become healthy, successful adults.
Medicaid provides millions of America’s children with that critical link to health and success. Children make up the single largest group of individuals who rely on Medicaid for their health care coverage. Medicaid has been working for kids for over 50 years now. What’s more, Medicaid includes a unique child-centered benefit package known as Early Periodic Screening Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) so that children are not denied coverage for services they need to stay on track developmentally. This important provision helps our nation’s most vulnerable children have the best shot possible of reaching their full potential.
Here at the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families we are working on a new report that reviews all of the latest research on how Medicaid coverage in childhood leads to longer, healthier lives, greater educational attainment, and more prosperous futures for our children. The research shows:
- Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women and children improves health throughout childhood and into adulthood. When pregnant women have access to Medicaid, newborns in low-income families have a better shot at a healthy delivery and strong start during their critical first year of life. They go on to have healthier childhoods including reduced rates of obesity, hospitalizations, and improvements in oral health. Researchers have also found that Medicaid coverage during early childhood leads to better overall health during adulthood.
- Medicaid eligibility leads to improvements in educational outcomes at the elementary, high school and college levels. One study found that increases in Medicaid/CHIP eligibility at birth led to improvements in reading test scores in the 4th and 8th grades. Another study found that increases in childhood Medicaid eligibility decreased the likelihood of students dropping out of high school and even increased the likelihood of college completion.
- Childhood Medicaid protects the whole family from financial hardship by decreasing the probability of debt and bankruptcy for families. In 2010, Medicaid lifted an estimated 2.6 million to 3.4 million individuals out of poverty. Medicaid effectively shields many children from poverty, reducing their exposure to adverse childhood experiences that can influence their health in later life.
- Childhood Medicaid produces economic benefits in adulthood, including increased employment, higher tax payments, and returns on public investment in Medicaid.
This growing body of research underscores the importance of Medicaid's role as a pillar of health coverage for children and economic security for families.
Now that critical link to a healthy childhood and academic success is under threat. The most recent turn of events in the debate over repealing the Affordable Care Act has put millions of children at risk of falling through the cracks. A recent blueprint released by House leaders indicates that in addition to repealing the ACA, they intend to fast track a plan to cut and radically restructure Medicaid, which would effectively end the guarantee to coverage that low-income children have today.
Such an approach is extraordinarily short-sighted and dangerous. With so much evidence of Medicaid’s effective interventions for children, let’s not throw children under the bus but keep them on the bus to a healthier and more productive future.
Joan Alker is the Executive Director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.
Snapshots on Medicaid's impact on children in each state is available here.