Have a Heart for Kids Day 2020

Emergency room rule compromises kids’ health, equal opportunity

Christina 10/18/11


A state rule starting early this month has inspired public debate and a lawsuit making national headlines.

The consequences of this policy will threaten the safety and health of Washington’s Medicaid families. The rule imposes harmful and confusing limits on benefits for care received at the emergency room that could have severe consequences for children covered under Apple Health for Kids.

Parents should be secure in the knowledge that they can seek needed and urgent care for their child, no matter the time of day or night. Instead, this rule, which identifies a list of 700 “non-emergency” conditions, creates confusion for parents and the false impression that the emergency room door is closed to them. No parent should delay needed care for their child because of concern that their insurance will not cover it.

The restrictions imposed on emergency room visit benefits are unfair and unsound; all kids deserve equal medical attention and don’t always get sick during office hours. This harmful policy will have a worse impact on kids of color, who already suffer poorer health outcomes and more hazards, and make up a large share of Medicaid recipients. While Latino and Black children are more likely to suffer from poor dental health, asthma, lead poisoning, obesity and diabetes, for example, they are less likely to have a usual source of care.

Year by year, regular, quality care paves a path for children to grow into healthy adults. Apple Health for Kids provides more than 700,000 children in our state with the comprehensive care they need day-to-day, whether it’s for a hard fall on the playground, a painful toothache at school, an allergic reaction, or to get a physical to play sports. A health home – a consistent place to get care like a doctor’s or dentist’s office – is the ideal place for children to get routine care. But an emergency room is also an important source for care, should a child suffer a serious burn or need immediate care.

With each additional budget cut, the goal of equal opportunity for all kids is pushed further out of reach, as parents are forced to make potentially life-threatening choices.

Both state and federal lawmakers speak of tough choices they must make in coming weeks. Let’s hope they think first of families who must make the toughest choices, and then choose a better path forward for all kids.