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Feist: Our most vulnerable will suffer under the proposed health care plan

One in five North Dakota families face increased medical challenges. One in 5 North Dakota families have a child with special health care needs or a disability. This adds up to nearly 20,000 of our children and youth who need medications, therapies, hospitalizations, medical equipment, feeding and other needs just to stay alive.

The proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA), which has passed the U.S. House, critically changes Medicaid as we know it. Medicaid is necessary for the health and well-being of our children, and has been a viable program for over 50 years. More than 95 percent of medical providers in North Dakota accept Medicaid as a payment source.

In general, children and youth with special health care needs and disabilities need more health care services than their peers and are vulnerable when they cannot access them. The changes to the Medicaid program will leave many unable to access needed services.

Many children and youth with special health care needs receive services through what is called a waiver. Waivers were added for individuals with disabilities under the Ronald Reagan administration. If the changes to Medicaid happen under the AHCA, those waivers would go away, as would the necessary federally mandated coverage provided by Medicaid, such as EPSDT, which protects children through the age of 21.

We continually hear that the AHCA would allow more flexibility. For our most vulnerable children and seniors, it would do the exact opposite in removing services that should be available to all children not matter in which state they live. Also, the AHCA would move federal matching funds to states, which will shift costs to the state of North Dakota. Chances of all the costs being covered by our state's budget, which has just been significantly cut, are low.

These changes will leave many children with special health care needs, adults with disabilities and the elderly at risk of losing health care. What happens if a child does not receive their medications, therapies and feedings? These are life and death issues to our most vulnerable populations; children with special health needs would be among those facing the greatest risk.

Research shows that over 70 percent of all bankruptcies are due to medical expenses for individuals. The causes of financial hardship for families of children and youth with special health care needs are complex and often intertwined. We can do better. Health care should not be a partisan issue. Lives are at stake.

I urge Sens. Hoeven and Heitkamp to work together to support health reforms that do not take us backwards and put our most vulnerable state residents at risk.

Feist is the director of Family Voices of North Dakota.