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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Medicaid Leads to Better Education

Amy Traver

Staff Writer

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that states would not be required to expand their Medicaid programs. Many of our bloggers have already told you a bit about why expanding Medicaid is critical for states. But I want to throw one more reason out there: expanding Medicaid can help improve education.

That’s right. I said expanding Medicaid – expanding access to health insurance – can help improve our educational system. How? Well, even though low-income children are already covered through Medicaid or CHIP without the expansion, many of their parents are not. Parents are one of the largest groups affected by the expansion. Right now, working parents in 17 states cannot receive Medicaid coverage if they make more than $9,545 for a family of three. That’s less than $800 a month!

Let’s imagine for a minute that this family of three includes a single mother and two small children. After paying the rent, the heating bill, and her neighbor to watch her kids while she’s at work, Mom is struggling to find room in that $800/mo family budget to buy enough food for her two growing children to eat.

And then Mom gets a cold. And then it turns into a really bad cough. Mom knows she should try to find someone to help her, but she’s not sure where to go, and wouldn’t be able to pay for it anyway. But then the cough gets worse, and turns into bronchitis. And then by the next week, it turns into pneumonia, at which point Mom goes to the ER to see a doctor, is hospitalized, misses four days of work, and four nights of reading to her kids before bed.

The fact is that uninsured parents have more difficulty getting the care they need when they need it. Our imagined scenario above only scratches the surface of how delaying care can poorly affect not only parents’ own health, but also their ability to work, support their families, and ultimately care for their children. Untreated behavioral health issues, like depression and anxiety, can also have negative implications for a child’s ability to learn and on his or her development.

And don’t think kids don’t pick up on how stressful Mom’s life is. The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child up at Harvard University put out a  paper on how exposure to anxiety ridden situations can disrupt a developing brain, causing lifelong negative effects on learning and memory. Keeping Mom out of the hospital and getting her treatment for physical and behavioral health issues can help improve the home environment and allow kids not only to stay focused at school, but also to develop the capacities to learn more in the future.

Expanding access to Medicaid helps make parents healthier and better able to support their families. Plus, when parents have health care coverage—including Medicaid—they tend to make sure that their children continue to have access to health care, whether that means making sure they stay enrolled in Medicaid or actually scheduling and going to the doctor for routine preventive care. This means healthier kids, and fewer days home sick from school.

 It’s long been recognized that health and family life at home affect a child’s ability to learn, school attendance, and ultimately school performance. So wouldn’t we want to make sure that every dollar we spent could really make a difference?

When we talk about expanding Medicaid, we’re talking about making parents healthier and, in turn, making kids healthier. We’re talking about more stability at home, and more time for parents to spend caring for their kids. We’re talking about maximizing a state’s investment in public education by improving the health of their population- helping states really get the biggest bang for their buck. And we’re talking about accepting federal money to do that.

Sounds like a no-brainer to me.