I admit it. I know my pediatrician’s number by heart. I’m on a first name basis with the nurses and front desk staff. I’ve even been known to drop by goodies at the holidays. To put it simply, I adore my pediatrician and her staff. I know that if my kids are sick or hurting, they will both truly care and get them better. That’s tremendous comfort for a mother.
When sickness strikes, a doctor is a mom’s best friend. But imagine if you couldn’t get your child in to see a doctor or if the closest doctor who would see your child was far away?
Or what if your child faced severe enough medical challenges that they required special care to live at home, and you learned that the care they need may no longer be available?
Thanks to the state's current Medicaid budget shortfall that’s exactly what moms across the state may be facing in the near future unless our legislators act quickly.
As of March 2011, one in five North Carolinians were eligible for Medicaid. And 57.6 percent of those receiving Medicaid benefits in North Carolina were children.
Unfortunately, the state's Medicaid program is facing a budget shortfall of $150 million for this fiscal year and $243 million next year. Unless the General Assembly acts quickly to provide additional funding to fill this gap, we are facing a crisis which threatens access to health care for children on Medicaid.
The alternative is immediate deep cuts in medical services and provider rates, which will have serious negative impacts on children receiving Medicaid benefits as providers will likely choose to no longer accept them as patients. This has real consequences for families, especially in areas where there are few providers already.
How did we get to this point?
In summer 2011, lawmakers passed a $19.7 billion budget that called for cutting $356 million from the state’s Medicaid program. At the time, the Department of Health and Human Services warned repeatedly that this level of cuts was unrealistic. The current $150 million Medicaid shortfall is largely a result of the cuts included in the budget.
State officials have been warning legislators since earlier this fall that making up this gap would require deep cuts in medical services and provider rates. After an October legislative oversight hearing on the issue, House Speaker Thom Tillis told reporters better-than-expected state revenues could be used to help patch the shortfall and instructed Health and Human Services Secretary Lanier Cansler not to pursue more service and rate cuts.
Now legislative leaders have changed their minds and are saying that it’s up to Gov. Perdue to find the funds to make up the shortfall.
But, as a recent article by WRAL points out, it's not clear that the language of the budget allows Gov. Perdue to allocate additional money to Medicaid without action by state lawmakers. Furthermore, any money that Gov. Perdue might find would have to come from needed and existing health care programs.
This is not and should not be a political game. Medicaid is a lifesaver for families facing many different challenges, helping them care for their loved ones without having to give up their jobs and saving them from utter financial ruin due to unexpected medical costs.
Not only is Medicaid a lifeline for families, it’s also a smart public investment. Medicaid helps our state’s children receive the health care they need to prevent small health problems from becoming very serious and expensive problems later.
Whether its wintertime coughs, springtime check-ups, or back-to-school physicals, all of the state's children need access to doctors in their communities.
I hope you’ll consider joining me in asking our state’s legislators to close the Medicaid shortfall and ensure that all our state’s children have the health care they deserve.
Beth Messersmith is a Durham mother of two and NC Campaign Director for MomsRising.org. She writes monthly for Go Ask Mom.