Guest Opinions

Senate revisions to Obamacare would harm Idaho children’s mental health

Anselme Sadiki
Anselme Sadiki

For over 100 years, the Children’s Home Society has focused on the well-being of vulnerable children. We pride ourselves on being a safe haven where children with mental illness receive exceptional services, regardless of the family’s economic situation.

We know that serving our children well is a moral imperative — and also one that pays off in the form of successful adults and strong communities. This is why we are extremely concerned about the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act. The Medicaid cuts in this legislation threaten our ability to fulfill our mission.

Idaho Medicaid has been a significant source of funding for our children’s services for decades. In fact, 63 percent of our clients are enrolled in Medicaid. The proposed cuts to our long-standing traditional Medicaid program put vital services in jeopardy at a time when we are failing to meet the current needs of our children.

Idaho continues to rank among the states with the most barriers to access to mental health care services. We have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation (5th highest, at 57 percent higher than the national average). Of the 362 suicides last year, 102 were of school-age children. Tragically, 70 percent of children in Idaho with depressive episodes never receive a mental health visit.

These circumstances are alarming and would be exacerbated if Medicaid is cut at the levels proposed in the Senate health care bill. Leading an organization whose mission is to instill hope by providing access to mental and behavioral health care services to Idaho children regardless of their circumstances, I am stunned that we could be abandoning vulnerable children just when they need our help.

This bill causes great harm. The latest version will mean 30,000 more uninsured children by 2022. This moves us backward from dealing with the challenges in our health care system. For example, we face a desperate shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists. When children don’t have adequate health coverage, it’s very hard to draw more providers to Idaho.

I hope Idaho’s congressional delegation will consider the impacts of the Senate health care bill on Idahoans with behavioral health needs and oppose any measure that reduces access to affordable, quality health coverage or that cuts Medicaid funding.

We recognize that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 could be improved and that work is still needed to bring the overall cost of health care down. However, the current alternative will leave millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Idahoans without access to affordable coverage. Residents with pre-existing conditions could either lose coverage or be priced out of care. The proposed cuts to Medicaid would shift the cost of health services to the state, and care for children could be drastically cut.

We have to ask ourselves: What is the life of an Idaho child worth? I firmly believe my fellow Idahoans care deeply about our children and want to see these vital services protected.

Anselme Sadiki is the executive director of the Children’s Home Society of Idaho.