Ron Koehler is assistant superintendent of the Kent Intermediate School District.
Lost in the debate surrounding the attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act is the potentially disastrous effect dramatic reductions in Medicaid funding will have on health care for children, one of the few universally recognized success stories in health care coverage over the last 20 years.
In 1997, after rejecting the universal health care reform proposed by then President Bill Clinton, Congress coalesced behind the Children’s Health Insurance Program on the consensus that early health care is critical to children’s future success. In the succeeding 20 years, the uninsured rate among children has fallen from 14 percent to less than 4.5 percent.
Combined with increased Medicaid coverage and the extension of health care to millions of uninsured through the Affordable Care Act, the percentage of children who are uninsured has fallen dramatically. Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute reports the impact of extending insurance to parents is so great that “a child was eight times more likely to have public insurance if their parent had public insurance, when compared to a child whose parent was uninsured.”
While the impact of poverty on educational performance remains a subject of debate, the effect of health care on student performance is not. A Seattle survey conducted last year found that “fewer than 15 percent of students with zero health risks were at academic risk, (but) more than half of students with 11 or more health risks were at risk of failing.”
The Georgetown University Health Policy Institute concludes: “The most profound impact of the cuts to health coverage could be a decline in student achievement. Research shows us that students eligible for Medicaid are more likely to graduate from high school and complete college than students without access to health care.”
Children with chronic pain, dental neglect and other health concerns cannot focus on their education. In our community, philanthropic organizations led by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation more than a decade ago came together with the county, schools, health and human service agencies to create the the Kent School Services Network. KSSN provides an array of health and human services for students and their families directly in the school building, using community school coordinators to identify issues impeding student. Medicaid funds are used in these settings to provide health and human services to qualifying students.
KSSN, a model for Governor Snyder’s Pathways to Potential program, and other programs like it have been so successful that policymakers now consider these strategies as evidence-based interventions for school improvement planning and reducing achievement gaps for ethnic and economically disadvantaged student populations.
Deep cuts in Medicaid funding contemplated in the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act could result in the loss of health care for tens of thousands of children in Michigan, and it could also force legislators to scale back the Children’s Health Insurance Program, especially if funding is reduced or curtailed by Congress when the program comes up for renewal in September of this year.
Our children deserve better. Children who are in pain, without treatment, or children who suffer the strain of family members with untreated disease or illness, do not have the same opportunity to succeed as those who are free of those burdens.
Michigan’s recent ranking in the national Kids Count assessment of children’s well-being was 32nd among the states. Access to healthcare was one of the few bright spots, with a state ranking of 17th. Our educational performance was 41st.
We cannot afford to fall backward. We must improve educational performance if we are to restore any portion of Michigan’s past prominence as the engine that drove the nation’s economy. Accessible and affordable health care is essential to the success of our children, to our employers, and to our economy.