As pediatricians we value kids, families and community. Access to health care services is fundamental to keeping children and families healthy. Numerous studies have shown that having a regular doctor and receiving preventive care improves long-term health outcomes for both children and adults. Ultimately, this kind of care benefits our communities and our economy.
Children without health insurance are more likely to go without medical care for acute illnesses such as strep throat or a ruptured appendix. In addition, children with chronic medical illnesses, such as diabetes and asthma, are more likely to suffer complications from these illnesses if they are uninsured. Without health insurance a child is less likely to receive preventive well child exams and thus more likely to have a late diagnosis of developmental delays and the well-proven benefit of early intervention services. As pediatricians, we recognize that providing health care coverage to families improves children’s health. Although the current Medicaid expansion proposal would primarily target adults, we know that children are healthier if they live in a home with healthy parents. Parents with health insurance miss fewer days of work and have overall improved health to provide for their families.
The Montana legislature currently faces an important decision that could significantly impact the health resources of thousands of Montana families. Right now 100,000 Montanans benefit from improved health care access thanks to the state and federally funded Medicaid insurance program. The Medicaid expansion proposed under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would provide health care coverage for approximately 70,000 additional Montanans. These are our neighbors, friends, co-workers and families in my clinic. Many of these hard-working Montanans are people who don’t currently qualify for Medicaid but struggle to pay for the ever increasing cost of private health insurance. Medicaid coverage not only allows access to healthcare for people who become sick but also provides access to important preventive care, such as yearly check-ups, dental exams, immunizations and prescription coverage. This important coverage decreases reliance on emergency departments for health care, which would effectively whittle down our overall health care costs.
Importantly, the Medicaid expansion would be implemented at low cost to our state. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost for the expansion in the first three years. In the following years, the federal government would pick up 90 percent of the costs until 2020. Gov. Steve Bullock estimates that the expansion will create 12,000 new jobs in Montana, across every county. These are good-paying health care jobs and are likely to create a positive impact on the health of communities as well.
We have an opportunity before us. We urge you to contact your local legislators to support the expansion of Medicaid in Montana, and thus pledge your support to improving the health of Montana’s children, families and communities.
Angie Ostrowski is a pediatrician in Bozeman, Allison Young is a pediatrician in Missoula and Tanya Jagodzinski is a pediatrician in Billings. They write as members of the American Academy of Pediatrics Legislative Subcommittee.