How to protect children's health in the wake of COVID-19
Every facet of the lives of children and families are being disrupted during this historic public health and economic crisis. Unfortunately, both their short-term and long-term consequences and challenges are not being fully considered or discussed. This crisis is severe and will last for months or even years to come. Moreover, the resulting physical and mental health consequences, impact on education and child development, and economic implications of this calamity will last well beyond the coronavirus itself.
That is why First Focus Campaign for Children called on Congress to safeguard the physical, emotional, financial, and developmental health and well-being of our nation’s 74 million children with a specific package of legislative proposals across a range of issues — including children's health.
As children and families face the COVID-19 crisis, health coverage and access to care are more critical than ever. Newly unemployed parents mean more children will become eligible for Medicaid and CHIP. Keeping those programs well-functioning in states demands increased funding from the federal level. More than ever, families need affordable care from their providers and coverage that meets their medical, dental, and mental health needs. To meet these needs, we recommend the following:
- Increase Medicaid FMAP: Increase the FMAP for Medicaid to at least 12 percent to provide fiscal relief to states while millions more children and adults are eligible for Medicaid.
- Auto-Enroll Newborns: Auto-enroll newborns in Medicaid, CHIP, or private coverage before leaving the hospital to ensure there is no gap in coverage for newborns.
- Protect the Medicaid MOE: Protect the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) for Medicaid in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act so eligible children and adults can access coverage and remain covered without red tape.
- Extend Parity in CHIP: Provide parity in CHIP to what is in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which mandates states not increase premiums in Medicaid or disenroll anyone already on Medicaid during the course of the public health emergency.
- Waive Extra Costs and Waiting Periods for Children: Waive waiting periods for CHIP, CHIP premiums, and co-pays for Emergency Room and office visits so families who are already stretched for money aren’t spending on CHIP during the Coronavirus pandemic.
- Twelve-month Continuous Eligibility: Provide 12-month continuous eligibility to Medicaid and CHIP recipients to eliminate the loss of coverage due to administrative paperwork and bureaucracy.
- Postpone CHIP FMAP Reduction: Postpone the upcoming final reduction of the enhanced E-FMAP for CHIP by 11.5% on October 1, 2020. Maintaining the current E-FMAP continues the administrative and fiscal status quo for Medicaid programs that are on the front lines of addressing the current COVID-19 crisis and provides additional resources to states and local governments.
- Make CHIP Permanent: The uninsured rate for children increased when CHIP expired for over 4 months in 2017 and 2018 and great time and energy by the federal government, states, health care providers, health plans, and advocates was wasted simply trying to maintain the status quo. We should never gamble or put at risk the health coverage of millions of children again. Extending CHIP saves money and could help offset the cost of these other initiatives. This idea was introduced (H.R. 6151, the CARING for Kids Act) by Reps. Abby Finkenauer and Vern Buchanan.
- Allow States to Raise CHIP Eligibility: Add an option for states to expand income eligibility for CHIP up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level to reduce uninsurance among children. Legislation has been introduced by Representative Nanette Barragan (H.R. 6098) allowing states this flexibility to reduce the uninsured rate for children.
- Sufficiently Fund CHIP: Provide sufficient funding for CHIP to meet the cost of increased enrollment due to newly eligible children and pregnant women.
- Withdraw MFAR Rule: Withdraw the proposed “Medicaid Fiscal Accountability” MFAR rule that would severely reduce states’ abilities to fund Medicaid and meet their obligation under FMAP.
- Expand Health Care within Group Settings: Expand health protections for children who are forced to remain in confined settings (i.e., group homes, juvenile justice centers).
- Ensure Accessibility to Healthcare: Children are falling behind on immunization and developmental screenings during this crisis. We should take actions to ensure that children fully catch up or receive those services and assure language and interpreter services are available for families.
- Address Declining Vaccination Rates: Support outreach efforts to ensure children do not fall behind on immunization rates and expand research to better understand vaccine hesitancy, spread public awareness of the importance of vaccinations, and increase vaccination rates across the lifespan, as included in the bipartisan VACCINES Act of 2019.
- Increase Mental Health Services and Funding: Families and children are under increased stress and risk during the coronavirus and economic crises, and need increased funding for mental health services and funding for kids and adolescents, including telehealth services to ensure behavioral and mental health care are provided.
- Establish an SEP for Marketplace Enrollment: Establish an extended Special Enrollment Period for healthcare.gov and allow families to gain coverage for any reason during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Eliminate the ACA Family Glitch: Eliminate the “family glitch” making employer-sponsored coverage truly affordable for families in the Marketplace.
For a full list of our specific policy recommendations across the array of children’s issues, check out our letter to Congress.