Blog Post Image

Protecting Access to Care for our Youngest New Yorkers

Originally appeared in El Diario on March 30, 2024

Protecting Access to Care for our Youngest New Yorkers

By Dr. Maja Castillo, AVP, Pediatric Medical Director, Healthfirst

As a pediatrician, I will always remember “Marie,” a child who nearly perished in a house fire that took the lives of her mother and sibling. In critical condition from her burns and lung injuries, Marie needed to relocate to another state to be with her father. But her transfer was stalled. Marie’s mother passed away just before she could renew Marie’s health insurance, and this administrative detail needlessly delayed the child’s reunion with her father.

Unfortunately, Marie’s temporary loss of health insurance is not unique and is particularly common for children with Medicaid or Child Health Plus (CHP). Dealing with tracking paperwork and deadlines can be challenging for all of us, but even more so for low-income parents who may be navigating frequent changes in income or family circumstances.

No family should have to jump through administrative hoops for consistent access to high-quality care for their children, and I’m glad that many of New York’s elected officials agree. As part of the state budget process underway in Albany, Governor Hochul and legislators are looking for federal approval to provide continuous Medicaid and CHP coverage for children from birth until the age of six. This means that once enrolled, children would automatically stay enrolled in Medicaid or CHP until their sixth birthday. Removing the hassle of renewing their health insurance would protect children like Marie from gaps in coverage.

We know that children who experience gaps in Medicaid coverage are more likely to have delayed needed care , unmet medical needs, and unfilled prescriptions. When coverage is interrupted, even briefly, children run the risk of missing well-visits, vaccinations, and other routine care that supports healthy childhoods.

Healthfirst provides Medicaid and CHP coverage to 600,000 children across New York City and on Long Island, as well as in Westchester, Rockland, Sullivan, and Orange counties. Continuous coverage for children ages zero to six will help to ensure that our pediatric members and other young New Yorkers can get the care they need when they need it.

From my years of practice in primary care pediatrics, I can say that easy, consistent access to high-quality primary care is the only way to prevent the health disparities and chronic conditions that we see so commonly in children today. When families know that their doctor’s appointments are covered, it is easier to maintain consistent relationships with patients, manage chronic conditions, and connect families to needed services in their communities. It also means that families with already full plates do not have to worry about renewal deadlines or out-of-pocket costs that can send a family into debt if there is an accidental gap in their child’s health insurance.

With uninterrupted access to Medicaid and CHP coverage, we can take better care of families. Healthfirst shares the goal of ensuring a healthy start for all children with New York’s legislators. Implementing continuous Medicaid and CHP coverage for children ages zero to six is an important step towards that goal. Healthfirst is grateful to Governor Hochul and the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus for championing this initiative and to the members of the Assembly and Senate for supporting it in their budget proposals.

As a pediatrician, I hope to see this initiative included in the final budget. Doing so will cut through the red tape to protect access to care for New York’s children with Medicaid and CHP, making an invaluable investment in their healthy future.

To learn more, watch Dr. Castillo’s interview on ABC7Tiempo with Joe Torres.

UPDATE: Continuous coverage in Medicaid and Child Health Plus for children aged 0-6 was included in the final FY2025 New York State budget on April 20, 2024.