Medicaid: Essential for millions of children of military families
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As a result of midterm elections, the freshmen representatives to the 116th Congress will include a sizeable number of veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, many of whom served in Iraq and Afghanistan — a milestone. While our nation pays tribute to veterans who sacrificed and served here at home and overseas, we must also look to their families including millions of children of veterans whose childhoods are shaped by experiences unique to military life, such as frequent change of stations and long deployments away from home. The continued health and well-being of children of military families is central to helping veterans focus on their civilian futures rather than worry about how to afford and access health care. Supporting our military is an important reason why we must continue protecting health care programs for kids — especially Medicaid.

According to the new report America’s Military Readiness and the Essential Role of Medicaid, Medicaid helps 3.4 million children in veteran families access health care. Even for active service families covered by TRICARE, over 200,000 children also rely on Medicaid for highly specialized care not provided by TRICARE. This total military family population of 3.6 million children qualify for Medicaid based on income or medical condition.

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Lily Putney is one of the many military children who has benefited from Medicaid coverage. Lily’s father, Anthony Putney, served in the U.S. Navy for 23 years. He was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, when Lily, a developmentally healthy child, got an ear infection at 15 months old that changed their lives forever. The ear infection failed to respond to treatment, soon spiraling out of control. Lily was hospitalized and eventually diagnosed with “presumed viral encephalitis,” which led to cerebral palsy requiring consistent hospital treatment and therapeutic care at each change of station.

Medicaid has helped provide Lily services, including in-school and at-home nursing and co-pay support for physical, occupational and speech therapies. Having access to Medicaid for Lily has been critical for Anthony and his wife, Carrie, who have three other children, including a son who recently joined the Navy. 

For children in the program, Medicaid has been shown to have strong positive impacts far beyond their health. Compared to uninsured children, those covered by Medicaid have higher school attendance and academic achievement, leading to greater career success and higher lifetime wages. They are also more likely to have better educational and health outcomes as adults.

Medicaid is an essential investment in the future of our children and our nation’s military readiness. As policymakers at federal and state levels continue to discuss how best to improve the U.S. health care system, it’s important they fully consider and protect the role Medicaid plays in millions of children’s healthy development and ability to achieve their full potential as adults. This Veterans Day and beyond, we ask our nation’s leaders to protect programs ensuring children’s health as a critical way we take care of our military families, honor their service and secure our nation’s military readiness.

Authored by Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, U.S. Air Force (retired), President and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and Mark Wietecha, president and CEO of the Children's Hospital Association (CHA). MOAA and CHA are members of the Tricare Coalition for Kids which will release the report America’s Military Readiness and the Essential Role of Medicaid on Nov. 15.