Included in the proposed House cuts for Health & Human Services is an enrollment freeze for NC Health Choice for Children, a program that provides health insurance to children whose parents make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private coverage.
Budget writers will describe the proposal as a cap or freeze, but don’t be fooled, it’s a cut.
How is it a cut? When our state froze enrollment in 2001 the number of children on Health Choice quickly dropped from 72,024 to 59,472. Even after the program was reopened enrollment plummeted for another four months.
The problem is that it takes enormous outreach efforts to educate parents across the state about the often confusing eligibility and paperwork requirements for Health Choice. Once people discover that they can only be included on a waiting list or that they can’t obtain coverage word gets around that the program is closed. Health Choice drops large numbers of children because of its complicated re-enrollment process, and there will not be enough new applicants because parents will think the program is shut. Enrollment will plunge.
Cutting Health Choice is especially galling because for every $1 the state spends on the program the federal government sends us $3. The House wants take $5 million from Health Choice over two years for other purposes. That means we are leaving $15 million meant for North Carolina in Washington. I think we should spend that money here to stimulate local economies and protect our children.
Health Choice is only one program among many on the chopping block. And simply shifting resources around is counterproductive. We need additional revenue. And we need some real leadership.