Children: Threats To Pediatric Care

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Pediatric Care

The year 2006 could be a seminal one for children's health-care coverage, according to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital chief-of-staff Harvey Cohen, MD, PhD. The proposed cuts to Medicaid, coupled with an ongoing push to enroll many of those children receiving state coverage into managed-care plans, threaten kids' access to specialty care.

"It is important that those of us who care for and about children realize that we are putting them at risk if we decide to decrease funding for their health or try to alter the current ways they receive care," said Cohen.

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About 35 percent of Packard Children's patients are enrolled in Medicaid or a related state program, California's Healthy Families. If the new federal budget passes as currently written, millions of children covered by Medicaid could be required to pay as much as 20 percent of the cost of their care - up to 5 percent of the families' income - while simultaneously receiving less-comprehensive benefits. Many pediatric specialists also have grave concerns about the ability of managed-care plans to appropriately treat children with complex medical problems.

"Children's access to high-quality care is at risk, especially for those with chronic or life-threatening conditions," said Cohen. "These changes would make it more difficult for these children to see pediatric specialists, and they would instead be sent to adult specialists who don't know as much about children's illnesses."

Packard Children's and other pediatric hospitals are working to inform lawmakers of the proposals' consequences. There's not much time, though: Congress is likely to cast its final vote on the 2006 budget by February.

From a forecast from members of Stanford University School of Medicine about events and developments to watch in the coming months.

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