Federal legislation means a giant step backward for US children, AAP leader charges

October 7, 2006

The US Congress dramatically reduced children's access to health care by passing the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) this year, according to American Academy of Pediatrics President Eileen Ouellette, MD, JD, during an address Saturday morning at the AAP National Conference and Exhibition in Atlanta. The act was subsequently signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The US Congress dramatically reduced children's access to health care by passing the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) this year, according to American Academy of Pediatrics President Eileen Ouellette, MD, JD, during an address Saturday morning at the AAP National Conference and Exhibition in Atlanta. The act was subsequently signed into law by President George W. Bush.

"The American public, which espouses 'family values,' isn't aware of how children are being affected," Ouellette told the audience in her opening remarks to conferees. "The DRA was a giant step backwards for kids dependent on Medicaid."

One result of the DRA is the requirement that Medicaid recipients supply a state-certified birth certificate. The requirement, which went into effect in July, predominantly had an impact on children in foster care, homeless adolescents, and babies.

For newborns released from the hospital, the certification requirement basically means that they are without financial support for medical services through the first few months of life.

"It takes six weeks or more for the certified birth certificates to be delivered. And we're hearing from hospitals that they are unable to discharge children who need equipment, like monitors and so forth, because the babies can't be registered for Medicaid," Ouellette explained. "We've heard from Virginia that one county alone has dropped 4,000 children from Medicaid since July 1st."

Ouellette emphasized that the AAP is working hard with congressional staff to allow exceptions for these three groups of children.

"The law was intended to keep undocumented immigrants from using Medicaid. But in the process, children who are American citizens are being denied Medicaid as well."

Although the AAP has been working in coalitions with more than 300 groups to inform the public, Ouellette said that these efforts have fallen short in alerting Americans of the effects of the legislation.

"It is quite clear that the American public, which espouses 'family values', does not understand the harm that is being done to children every day."

As a result of these experiences, Ouellette reported that the AAP is starting an initiative to develop a national agenda for children in which new associations with judiciary and business leaders are being forged."Fortune 500 leaders we've spoken to are very aware of the benefits of early childhood education. They've estimated that the return on investment for preschool is 16%, because children graduate from high school at a much higher rate and are less likely to go to prison. And children who aren't well, can't learn."

What can you do? There's a need for pediatricians to assist with this important issue by contacting the AAP chapter president in their state, Ouellette urged, and becoming involved in work that promotes public awareness. The goal? To energize Americans so that there is a coalescence of political to have the nation invest in its children.

"Children are 100% of our future, and we are depriving them of medical care," she concluded. "This jeopardizes everyone's future."