Senator John McCain was recently diagnosed with an incurable brain cancer. He has begun a journey that will lead to countless encounters with expert doctors doing their best to increase his survival. He is fortunate to have health insurance that will allow him access to the latest medical advancements to battle his cancer.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone in the United States.

As a pediatric cardiologist and developmental pediatrician, we know what the children we see need to address their challenging health issues.

Too often, they are not able to access the treatment we prescribe due to losing health coverage, having a lapse in coverage, or even if they do have insurance, it does not cover the treatment we recommend.

Several examples we have witnessed include: a child with asthma child gasping for air and unable to breathe having missed his last five doctor’s appointments; a little girl with diabetes who is now in a coma having run out of her insulin; a child with autism and severe behavioral issues who cannot access intensive behavioral services; a child with autism and depression who cannot access mental health services; and a teenager with congenital heart disease who has not seen his physician for years due to intermittent loss of coverage and is now in end-stage heart failure. To be sure, other factors may be involved in these situations but certainly, lack of ongoing good access to medical care is the common theme.

Over 34 million children get health insurance through Medicaid, which provides basic coverage for well-child visits, vaccinations, acute illnesses, and hospitalizations.

Medicaid also allows treatment for chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, congenital heart disease, and cancer. In some states, it does allow access to treatment for children with developmental differences such as autism. Without the Medicaid expansion made possible through the ACA, many of these children would not be able to receive adequate treatment.

The Senate recently failed to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and for now, the expansion of Medicaid continues to exist.

While not perfect, the ACA marketplace allowed families of children with developmental differences, including autism, to purchase plans that covered evidence-based therapies to support their children’s learning and long-term development. But it is not enough.

Our health system is in crisis. Even Senator McCain acknowledged this and stated, “Our healthcare insurance system is a mess. We all know it, those who support Obamacare and those who oppose it. Something has to be done. We Republicans have looked for a way to end it and replace it with something else without paying a terrible political price. We haven’t found it yet, and I’m not sure we will.”

In these unprecedented times, no one knows what will actually happen but we know that the children we care for are at risk. This should not be.

Every day in our clinical interactions, we see families and patients making hard choices when they decide whether or not they can afford medicine or a doctor’s visit. Sometimes they are ashamed to tell their physicians that they could not afford what was prescribed. Physicians are put in the position of helping patients prioritize which medicine and therapy is the most important because of the unaffordable cost of following through with all prescribed medicines and therapies. This is unacceptable, for families should not be choosing between paying bills and paying for necessary medicine or therapies to function at work and in some cases to live longer.

There are difficult questions with equally difficult answers. But, the time has come for our elected officials to say “I don’t know,” to start over and to come together and compromise for the benefit of building a health care policy that works for all individuals. Americans need access to universal health care. France, the Netherlands and other countries have proven that it can work and provide us with models as a starting point.

The children we serve deserve more than the political wrangling and chaos that currently defines our political debates. Shouldn’t all children and families have the same access to health care as Senator John McCain?

– Dr. Angira Patel & Dr. Sarah C. Bauer


Dr. Angira Patel is a pediatric cardiologist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Medical Education at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Dr. Sarah C. Bauer is a developmental pediatrician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

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