Children at Party

Fifty years ago today, at the height of President Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” Congress passed landmark legislation that created the Medicaid program. The Social Security Amendments of 1965, which also established the Medicare program, offered peace of mind to poor families, ensuring that their children would not be denied needed medical services because they couldn’t afford them.

Before Medicaid, millions of families had no place to turn when their child was ill, injured, or disabled.

Today, Medicaid is the cornerstone of health coverage for children. It is the single largest insurer of children in the United States, providing coverage to 38 million kids in 2013.

While the Affordable Care Act allows states to expand Medicaid eligibility to uninsured adults, it is important to remember that Medicaid serves primarily children in families with extremely limited means. The fact that so many children rely on Medicaid is closely linked to the state of poverty in America. According to the most recent Census data (2013), 16.1 million children in America live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – that’s $23,550 a year for a family of four. It is stunning to think that 22 percent of children in America live in poverty. Sadly these statistics help explain why so many kids rely on Medicaid for the health care.

The good news is that Medicaid has been enormously successful in providing cost-effective care to millions of children. From well-baby and well-child visits, to vaccines, eyeglasses, dental and asthma care, Medicaid plays a significant role in keeping kids healthy, in school, and on track to becoming productive adults.

Despite Medicaid’s success, lawmakers continue to propose cuts to Medicaid that would reverse the progress that has reduced the numbers of uninsured kids to record lows. As advocates, we hope our leaders are working hard to find solutions to address the budget deficit and strengthen our the national economy but arbitrary cuts to Medicaid will hurt the folks who rely on Medicaid the most – kids. Proposals to block grant Medicaid or impose a per capita cap on Medicaid would only limit eligibility for coverage and reduce benefits for kids while producing insubstantial savings.

Arbitrary cuts to Medicaid cannot be the answer. Reducing coverage by limiting the health care that is available for poor kids makes no sense and serves only to jeopardize our nation’s future prosperity. How can we fix the economy for the long term if we can’t be sure that we’ll have a healthy generation of kids who are able to work?

As lawmakers iron out serious budget issues, children’s health coverage must continue to be a national priority. Fifty years ago our leaders made a commitment to care for those living in poverty. Our leaders today must renew this commitment by protecting Medicaid so that every family in America has the peace of mind that when hard times fall, their children will still be able to get the care they need to grow up to enjoy long and healthy lives. We owe it to our children and to our nation’s future success to keep Medicaid strong.

Happy 50th birthday to #Medicaid! What the last 50 years have meant for the health of our children: #KeepingUSHealthy
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Want to learn more? First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about our work on child health.

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