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Halted Medicaid payments threaten D.C. children's health

Thursday - 10/10/2013, 5:29pm  ET

WASHINGTON - A healthcare crisis is brewing in the District of Colombia.

D.C. is barred from making Medicaid payments during the federal government shutdown. And that means there is no money to cover the cost of medical services for more than 100,000 kids from low-income families.

"Between 80 and 90 percent of the children in the District of Colombia receive Medicaid for their primary care," says Dr. David Wessel, a chief medical officer with Children's National Health System. That translates into about half the patients at Children's National Medical Center, which also serves lots of kids from Maryland and Virginia.

Children's is better able to weather the storm than smaller health care providers in the District, and Wessel says no child will ever be turned away. But he admits the shutdown is reaching the point where Children's is starting to map out which programs it should cut so it can handle the loss of Medicaid payments, which amount to roughly $12.5 million each month.

Wessel says he is really worried about other, smaller providers.

"These are institutions that are not for profit and run very slim margins," he explains, "and they really depend on Medicaid payments to continue their operations."

He says another looming problem is the freeze on funds for a slew of children's health initiatives run by the federal government. Among them is the vaccine program for low-income kids across the country.

"It's not just about flu vaccine," says Wessel, "but we are talking measles, mumps, rubella, polio."

Also affected is the Ryan White Program which pays for HIV medications for young people, and a federally-funded effort to provide transportation services for children who must travel two or more times a week for dialysis treatment.

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