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Issue 22013

Why Medicaid Matters

Ashley Cardenas holding her daughter, Audrina. Ashley said their experience
turned her world “upside down” and that she could not have provided the
comprehensive treatment her baby needed without Medicaid.

Mark A. Wallace

President and Chief Executive Officer

A little more than a year ago, Ashley Cardenas came to Texas Children’s Fetal Center after a routine 16-week ultrasound that was anything but. It revealed that part of her baby’s heart was forming outside of the chest.


Ashley’s baby was diagnosed with ectopia cordis, an extremely rare congenital malformation that only about eight per one million babies are born with, and of those eight, 90 percent are either stillborn or die within the first three days of life. Her baby’s only chance for survival was a risky surgery immediately after birth.

When her baby girl, Audrina, was born, Ashley didn’t know how long she’d live. She didn’t know if the surgery would be a success. And she couldn’t possibly imagine the financial burden of treatment and care. But she did know two things for sure: She would do anything for her baby, and she had to give her a chance at life.

With the help of Medicaid, Ashley was able to make the right choice for little Audrina. And isn’t that the point of it all? At the end of the day, Medicaid is about making the right choices for children so they get the care they need — whether it’s basic preventive health care at the local pediatrician’s office or advanced treatment within a comprehensive children’s health system for an unthinkable diagnosis.

Children need to have access to the right care at the right place at the right time. That’s been Texas Children’s philosophy for nearly 60 years now. Our hospital was founded on a principal desire to provide access to every child, treating all children regardless of their families’ ability to pay. I’m proud of that. Programs like Medicaid help ensure that we can provide the care all children deserve.

Unfortunately, when we hear about Medicaid in the local and national media, we’re not hearing about children. We’re not hearing about real families with good parents who work hard to provide for their children’s needs. We hear a lot more about a free program for people disinterested in working and paying their fair share. That’s a misconception. As the largest and most comprehensive children’s health system in the nation, Texas Children’s Hospital serves more Medicaid patients than any other pediatric hospital in the state. I know the real faces of Medicaid because the families walk our halls, many of them having endured catastrophic events that most people can’t imagine and would not be prepared for emotionally or financially.

Audrina had a six-and-a-half-hour surgery to place her heart back inside her body. She then spent nearly four months in Texas Children’s cardiovascular intensive care unit and another nearly four months in outpatient care, all while living seven hours away from home so she could be near the hospital. Audrina currently is on 1 liter of oxygen, an NG tube for feeding, and she receives speech and physical therapies two times a week between her weekly cardiology check-ups.

How do you prepare for that? Children need health care coverage.

Today, one out of every 11 children in the U.S. lives in Texas, and we expect that number to grow significantly in the next several years. Of those, a vast number are uninsured yet eligible for coverage. These are the real constituents who will be lost and will fall through the cracks if Medicaid dollars are not protected and future investments are not made. The simple truth is that our federal and state governments save money by investing in health care. Children who grow up with regular health exams, immunizations and care for childhood illnesses are more likely to become adults who are healthy and productive taxpayers.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for many families, including those in the middle class, to make ends meet. It’s harder for these families to provide the same level of health care coverage for their children now than in previous years. Medicaid is a safety net for everyone, because we are all one medical crisis or catastrophic event away from financial ruin. It is a stepping stone for people when the unexpected occurs. It is for the middle class, for the financially stable, and even for those who once considered themselves upper class. If you have worked during your life, Medicaid is a program you helped fund, and it’s available to you and your children when you need it most.

That’s a good thing. Having the ability to access the right care gave Ashley peace of mind just as it does millions of us every day, and it ensured a very happy first birthday for Audrina.

We must remain focused on what’s really at the heart of this matter and make sure that every child has access to quality health care. As adults, that’s our responsibility.