Potentially put in the crossfire of this healthcare debate is a group that does not get a vote but is among the most vulnerable: children.
The leader of Seattle Children’s Hospital says the past months have been “a rollercoaster: is something going to happen? Are we going to be okay?”
Now, as lawmakers prepare to vote on the Cassidy-Graham bill next week, Dr. Jeff Sperring is speaking out and traveling to Washington D.C. to make a last-ditch appeal to senators because of what that would mean for Medicaid.
“We want them to remember that half the kids in their states are going to be impacted if this bill goes through. Because these kids require such long-term chronic care, Medicaid becomes their safety net,” Dr. Sperring, named CEO in 2015, said.
“They didn't choose to get sick. They didn't make bad decisions to get congenital heart disease, and in some of these acts we're punishing them for that – and I just don't think that's right.”
Medicaid covers more than 30 million children nationwide, and more than half of the kids at Seattle Children’s.
The CEO and pediatrician say the impacts of the proposed cut to Medicaid are similar to previous repeal efforts, and the hospital has had an outside agency examine the effects.
“That really looked at a $43 billion reduction in children’s health coverage over a 10 years period,” Dr. Sperring said, explaining these are national numbers.
Though many GOP leaders have compared the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to disasters, Dr. Sperring says life before Obamacare was a huge financial burden on families and the hospital, as insurers constantly denied patients’ coverage because of preexisting conditions.
“Before these protections, we watched families go through these hardships for years. Everything our kids have: being born premature – and all of the complications that go along with that – congenital heart disease, diabetes, asthma. We had kids over time that were refused care listing those as preexisting conditions,” Dr. Sperring said, explaining the ACA prevented those situations from happening. “We're very concerned that through this bill, if you allow states to apply for waivers, it would eliminate those protections.”
Seattle Children’s serves kids in four states: Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has been at the center of the debate, as she has rejected most efforts to repeal and replace.
“She’s a great champion of children and this is a significant impact to the state of Alaska,” Dr. Sperring said, noting Sen. Murkowski visited the hospital in August.
Sen. Murkowski told reporters last week she needed to review the bill more before she decides whether to endorse it.
Sunday night, an updated version of the repeal bill circulated on Capitol Hill. The revision provided more benefits to Alaska, an appeal to Sen. Murkowski, according to NBC News.
Meantime, the hospital says political uncertainty is making it is difficult to plan for the future. Dollars earmarked for new research programs may have to be rerouted to cover children’s care if Medicaid is cut.
“We never lose hope. We’ve been here for 110 years for kids and families, but we want it to be as good as it can be,” Dr. Sperring said. “We worry that when we see bills like this that we know are going to be bad for kids, it weighs on us.”
If you want to speak out against the Graham-Cassidy health reform proposal, Seattle Children's asks that you contact your congressional lawmaker by going to Speak Now for Kids and registering your opinion.