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Who’s most at risk as Senate writes health care bill in secret?

by Lauren Gambill (MPA '18)

Prefect Stone, 7, has his ear examined by Will Williams of The Children’s Health Center in Macon, Ga. Children could be among the most affected by cuts to Medicaid. Woody Marshall The Telegraph (Macon, Ga.)

Right now, behind closed doors, U.S. senators are working on their version of the American Health Care Act to replace the Affordable Care Act. Based on what we know, we can expect staggering cuts to Medicaid.

My patients are children. The proposed cuts will directly harm them.

One of these children is a little boy in the hospital with an infection. His mother suffers from an untreated addiction and no longer has custody of him. He can get the treatment he needs today because of Medicaid.

In California, there are 4.9 million children covered by Medicaid, nearly 60 percent of all children 5 or younger. In Mendocino, Lake, Tehama, Del Norte, Merced, Madera and Tulare counties, the total jumps to more than 80 percent.

These children do not vote or hold office. They are not holding press conferences. They are on playgrounds and in school. Many of them have special needs such as juvenile diabetes, congenital heart conditions or asthma, and nearly two-thirds have at least one working parent. Cuts to Medicaid will take away the care they need for a healthy start in life and to be ready to learn in school.

Medicaid protects some of the most vulnerable children in our state, including 79 percent living in poverty, 43 percent of kids with disabilities and all minors in foster care. With so many obstacles already stacked against them, it seems inhumane to deliver yet another blow.

A sweet little girl I care for would be affected. Despite a healthy pregnancy for her mother, this child was unexpectedly diagnosed at 6 months old with a fatal genetic disease. She requires a great deal of medical care, which she can access because of Medicaid. Her single mother supports the family by knitting scarves. While senators decide whether this little girl with a pre-existing condition deserves health insurance, I talk to her mother about treatment options she may not be able to afford without Medicaid.

Today, more than 95 percent of children in the United States have health insurance because of 20 years of bipartisan agreement. We know that kids with insurance do better in school and are more likely to graduate high school and go to college. Their parents miss less work and are less likely to forgo their own health care.

The AHCA has already passed the House. The Senate plans to vote on its version before the July 4 recess. Our country is frighteningly close to making a catastrophic decision for our children. The narrow window to speak up is now.

Lauren Gambill (MPA '18) is a Sacramento pediatrician and a member of the state government affairs committee for the American Academy of Pediatrics, California. She can be contacted at laurengambill@gmail.com or on Twitter @renkate.

This op-ed was originally posted on The Sacramento Bee.