Proposed cuts to national programs would harm children’s ability to access timely, quality health care

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL, July 20, 2012 – As federal legislators continue to grapple over the best way to bring better health care to all Americans, children’s health care hangs in the balance. That’s why a local Minneapolis-area family is taking their story to Washington, D.C. this month to ask Congress to protect care for children in the face of proposed cuts to the national health care programs many kids rely on, and to close the gap between demand for care and the supply of pediatric specialists.

As part of the Children’s Hospital Association’s Family Advocacy Day, July 23-25, Michael Johnston, age 14 of Vadnais Heights, and his family, will join nearly 30 other young patients and their families traveling to the nation’s capital to help bring to life the importance of adequate funding for pediatric care. The event includes one-on-one congressional visits, a congressional luncheon, a tour of Washington, D.C., and a celebratory dinner to honor the young patients known as Family Advocacy Day “All Stars.”

The Johnston family knows firsthand the value of having access to high quality, timely and specialized pediatric care. Michael suffered from headaches for just over a year until the problem escalated to numbness in his tongue and difficulty walking. In April, he was taken to Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota where he was diagnosed with and treated for a cancerous brain tumor. Through a combination of brain surgery and proton beam radiation therapy, Michael is now cancer free and has had three clean post-treatment checkups.

Yet for several months prior to the discovery of Michael’s tumor, the Johnston family had attempted to get appointments with a variety of psychologists and neurologists in the area. However, due to long waits for this type of specialized care, it was not until Michael’s symptoms escalated and he had to be admitted to Children’s emergency room that he able to be seen by a specialist.

“We feel incredibly blessed for the specialized care and attention our son was able to get from the physicians and nurses at Children’s,” said John Johnston, Michael’s father. “Access to prompt and specialized emergency care was critical for our son, as it is for all children. We’re taking our story to Washington, D.C. to help our leaders recognize the need to protect and preserve quality, timely health care for kids all across the country.”

Experts agree that several proposals have the potential to harm children’s access to care.

Children’s Hospitals Graduate Medical Education (CHGME), a national program solely devoted to helping children’s hospitals train pediatricians and pediatric specialists, supports the training and development of nearly half of all pediatricians and pediatric specialists practicing in the U.S. Unfortunately, CHGME funding is far below the support needed. The result is a national shortage of pediatric specialists.

Medicaid, an economic need-based federal and state program that provides health coverage to one in three children, faces proposals that would slash program funding. President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposes Medicaid cuts of $56 billion over a 10-year period. The House fiscal year 2013 budget proposes capping the amounts of funding states receive for Medicaid, which could negatively impact the health care programs kids rely on.

"Every child deserves easy access to high quality health care, regardless of cost or ability to pay," said Alan L. Goldbloom, M.D., president and CEO of Children's of Minnesota. "Continued legislative cutbacks to physician training in pediatric medicine and Medicaid reimbursement for children's health care are working against this goal."

The Children’s Hospital Association will release findings from a survey of children’s hospitals to better understand the impact of pediatric specialist shortages on children’s ability to access timely medical care. The release will occur during Family Advocacy Day (July 23–25).