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Environmental services aid Charlie Fletcher pushes a gurney at UMC Trauma Center on Thursday, July 19, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

By Melanie Scheible

This week we celebrate the 54th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the bipartisan Social Security Amendments into law that created the Medicaid program and are instrumental in providing health insurance to low-income Americans. With more than 650,000 Nevadans receiving care through Medicaid, the program is a vital lifeline to individuals without other options for affordable health insurance.

This is especially true for children. Research has shown Medicaid enrollment improves school attendance, high school graduation, and college enrollment. Children covered through Medicaid earn more and require less medical care in adulthood. In 2014, Nevada joined other forward-thinking states in expanding Medicaid coverage, allowing more than 200,000 Nevadans to become insured. We know from experience that more children enroll in health coverage when their parents become eligible for Medicaid.

That’s been true in Nevada where we’ve led the nation with the largest decline in the number of uninsured children, from almost 15 percent in 2013 to nearly seven percent 2016. Unfortunately, our state is beginning to lose ground on the progress we have made, with our children’s uninsured rate increasing to 8 percent in 2017.

While federal efforts to sabotage improvements in health care coverage may be partly to blame for our state’s troubling trends, we also know that our economy is changing and Nevada’s Medicaid program has not always kept pace with these changes such as the introduction of the gig economy and more people working multiple part-time jobs. The good news is that there are steps Nevada can take to bring Medicaid into the 21st century, reduce red tape for Nevadans and foster the healthy development of children.

I introduced a proposal during the legislative session that would have guaranteed health insurance for 12 months for kids enrolled in Medicaid. As introduced, Senate Bill 198 would have led to big savings and better long-term health outcomes for Nevada’s children. The bill would have eliminated gaps in coverage when family incomes fluctuate – a reality for many Nevada families whose incomes rise and fall as overtime and seasonal opportunities come and go.

This proposal would reduce costs by making it less likely that kids lose health insurance and wind up seeking more expensive care in the emergency room and increase efficiency and cut down on red tape by simplifying the enrollment process and reduce the administrative workload. The bill was amended so we could make some systems improvements in order to secure the information needed to show why kids are dropping off of coverage, and passed with strong support.

The state will be improving its computer system to better capture the data needed to best implement 12-month continuous eligibility, and we will continue to speak up on behalf of the children who need the health care stability provided by this policy change. We hope to build on the bipartisan support we had during the session in order to fully implement this important policy in the next session.

We know that implementing efforts to keep kids continuously enrolled for 12 months in Medicaid can help get coverage rates moving in the right direction again. We must build on the Medicaid law that was passed over 50 years ago to reflect the reality of today’s workforce, where not everyone works a 9-5 job that offers affordable health care benefits. and incomes fluctuate as overtime or seasonal work opportunities come and go.

By guaranteeing Medicaid coverage for a full year, we can prevent kids from falling through the cracks.

Melanie Scheible is a Democratic state senator from District 9.

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