Health Care Bill in Congress Is a Threat to Texas Kids

A few weeks ago, a burly police detective in a coat and tie sat at a wooden table with his wife and squirmy 16-month-old daughter, Sully, explaining to state Senators what it meant to hear his little girl cry.

He described to the Texas Senate Finance Committee the joy of hearing Sully cry for the first time after she was silent for the first few months of life. Since then, Sully, who has Down syndrome, has had many more breakthroughs thanks to the family's hard work and the support provided by Sully's therapists.

But Sully's family didn't drive to Austin just to tell a heartwarming story. They told the Senate budget-writers that Sully's progress, and the progress of other kids, was now in jeopardy because the Legislature cut Medicaid funding for therapies for kids with disabilities.

And it wasn't just Sully's family. A parade of families has shared similar stories with the Legislature and in newspapers across Texas, provoking outrage around the state and regrets for many legislators since they cut funding in 2015.

Unfortunately, Texans can expect many more cuts for children like Sully if Congress passes the health care bill currently under consideration.

You may have heard about the impact the bill will have on the cost of your health care, making private insurance even more expensive for many people, particularly if you have a modest income or you're over 50. You may also know that it ends the "Medicaid expansion" for uninsured low-wage workers, an option that Texas hasn't implemented. Those are some of the reasons the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 24 million Americans will lose their coverage by 2026 if the bill passes.

But have you heard what the bill would mean for Texas kids who rely on the Medicaid program for the care they need?

The House bill fundamentally changes the successful way Medicaid is funded today, establishing a cap on the program and dramatically cutting Medicaid funding to states. According to an estimate by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, those cuts would total $116 billion for states over the next decade, not counting the cuts to Medicaid expansion for adults.

In Texas, Medicaid essentially serves four populations: children, people with disabilities, pregnant women and seniors. So when the state cuts Medicaid to accommodate the new cap, these are the Texans who would bear the direct brunt of those decisions.

These Texans are at greater risk than people in similar circumstances in other states. Because Texas spends less on Medicaid per beneficiary compared to others states, Congress would penalize us, leaving our state with a smaller share of health care funding than other states.

To be clear, these cuts would particularly threaten Texas kids, who account for nearly three out of every four Texans who rely on Medicaid for the health care they need to thrive.

Children's health is directly affected by a number of services that would be on thin ice, such as prenatal care for pregnant women; preventive care that keeps kids healthy and avoids costly challenges down the road; mental health services; coverage for kids in foster care; health services in our neighborhood schools; and Early Childhood Intervention for kids with autism, speech delays or other developmental delays and disabilities.

Quality health care, especially during the first few years of life, is essential for healthy brain development and future success in school. For example, research has linked Medicaid and CHIP eligibility at birth to higher reading scores in fourth and eighth grade. Other research ties Medicaid eligibility increases to greater success in high school and college.

The future of our state depends on the success of our children, and our children's success is directly jeopardized by the health care bill Congress is considering. For the sake of Sully and millions of children across Texas, we urge lawmakers to go back to the drawing board.

Stephanie Rubin is CEO of Texans Care for Children. Patrick Bresette is executive director of Children's Defense Fund-Texas.

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