Monday, November 28, 2005

House balances budget on the backs of children

Any of you who have been struggling to keep up with the "action alerts" you are getting from your various advocacy organizations should realize that the US House of Representatives has just passed a Budget Reconciliation Bill that will deeply affect Medicaid recipients in every state. There will now be a conference committee to iron out the differences (if possible) between the Senate and House bills.

The House bill would bring devastating change to basic Medicaid coverage for children, and will be particularly difficult for families of children with special health care needs. This is because of the proposed changes in the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) provisions that have-up to this point-provided strong protection for children with disabilities or serious health conditions. Let's put it this way: thousands and thousands of poor American children will not get hearing aids or (possibly) wheelchairs, orthotic equipment, occupational, physical, or speech therapy, if they lose their ESPDT coverage.

It is all very well and good for Congresspeople to say that Medicaid coverage should not exceed coverage enjoyed by ordinary people who have commercial insurance. For example, many employer-sponsored health plans do not include coverage for hearing aids, nor adequate (realistic) coverage for expensive items like wheelchairs. Nor do they provide for therapies for children for "habilitative" (that's the opposite of "rehabilitative") reasons.

However, even families with moderate income have to struggle to pay for things like hearing aids (which can cost over $5000.00) and wheelchairs (which cost even more). They pay out of pocket for therapies and other things.

These things will simply be out of reach for the poorest of the poor. A family earning 133% of the federal poverty level could, if this bill becomes law, be required to pay for hearing aids for their child. And realistically, folks, can a family living on less than $20,000 a year afford $5000.00 for hearing aids?

Or anything else?

Not to mention the cut to the food stamp program, and WIC, in this same House bill.

Time to get on the phone to your advocacy organizations, or if you don't know where to look for more info, click on the title above for a starting place.



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