Gutting Medicaid will harm generations to come

A bill to fundamentally change the way Americans purchase and receive health care passed the House of Representatives and is now waiting consideration in the Senate. The bill, which was opposed by nearly every major medical organization, threatens the health and well-being of millions of Americans with public and private insurance.

The bill would effectively gut Medicaid, the program that today, thanks to expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), ensures health services for 74 million Americans, including nearly 1.3 million Marylanders. As leaders and frontline health professionals, we see daily how Medicaid saves lives and provides hope and stability, and our state must join a growing national effort to preserve it.

On Monday, we will join with leaders from the NAACP, Health Care Access Maryland, Health Care for All! and advocates around the state at a public forum to advance our work here in Maryland to save Medicaid. We start that work by making sure elected officials and fellow citizens alike know and understand the role of Medicaid in safeguarding health and life in Baltimore, Maryland and nationally.

Consider that 23 percent of Maryland's 5.9 million residents are low-income and 65 percent of the state's adults suffer from poor physical and behavioral health. Here are just a few examples of how loss of Medicaid coverage would hurt our very own neighbors, family members and friends:

•Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) make possible health and long-term care for nearly 1.3 million low-income children, pregnant women, adults, seniors and people with disabilities in Maryland. For children, this coverage means treatment for asthma, infectious diseases and other serious ailments. For pregnant women, it means prenatal care, which reduces by a factor of five the rate of infant mortality among newborns. Slashing Medicaid coverage will increase infant mortality and harm generations to come.

•Medicaid provides services that are not covered by Medicare. In Maryland, more than 1 million residents are over the age of 60, some 10 percent of whom live in Baltimore City, where one in six lives below the poverty line. For these low-income seniors, Medicaid means access to basic, vital resources like eyeglasses, hearing aids and prescription drugs. Critically for Maryland's low-income seniors, Medicaid also covers 40 percent of long-term care services and supports. Without Medicaid, our senior citizens could be forced to forgo care and choose between paying for medications and life necessities like food and rent.

•Medicaid allows people suffering from addiction and substance use disorders to access needed treatment. From January to September 2016, Maryland counted 1,468 deaths related to overdose. Nationally, nearly one in three individuals who receive insurance through Medicaid expansion have a behavioral health or substance use disorder, or both. We cannot deprive them of life-saving treatment; losing coverage today could mean overdosing and dying tomorrow.

•Medicaid provides access to health care coverage and services for the most vulnerable members of our community: people experiencing homelessness. Prior to Medicaid expansion, just 30 percent of the clients at Health Care for the Homeless had health insurance; today that number is 90 percent. And through Medicaid, many of these individuals — who lack incomes and often have severe disabilities — are now able to establish the medical history required to apply for disability income and transition out of homelessness.

•Medicaid improves not only the lives of the most vulnerable among us, but of all Marylanders. Medicaid expansion has both lowered the rate of uninsured residents and, by improving access to preventive care and reducing costly uncompensated care, is resulting in cost savings and better health for all.

Put simply, access to Medicaid saves lives. It is a benefit that many cannot live without. And as Marylanders, it is our responsibility to protect it.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Rep.Cummings@Mail.House.Gov) is a Democratic congressman from Baltimore. Dr. Leana Wen (Twitter: @DrLeanaWen and @BMore_Healthy) is the commissioner of health in Baltimore City. Kevin Lindamood (klindamood@hchmd.org) is president and CEO of Health Care for the Homeless.

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