Millions of Children on Medicaid Aren’t Showing Up for Free Checkups

According to a new report out of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General, millions of low-income children on Medicaid still aren’t getting the free screenings and exams they qualify for, and the government isn’t acting sufficiently to fix the problem.

The report was released Thursday, and claims that although the Obama administration has boosted participation rates in Medicaid, it still has to work harder to get children into their regular wellness and dental checkups as well as vision and hearing exams.

According to the report, 63% of children on Medicaid received at least one medical screening in 2013. While this is an improvement from the 56% who made it into the doctor’s office in 2006, it’s still far lower than the 80% goal. Iowa and California were the only states to exceed that goal last year, while Alaska and Ohio dropped under 40%, and several other states hovered between 40-45%.

A few missed doctor’s appointments may not seem like a big deal, but not taking children to the doctor on a regular basis can, in fact, have major consequences. “We end up with kids who are sicker, with more long-term, serious medical issues that are more expensive to treat,” Jennifer Clarke, the executive director of Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, told Kaiser Health News.

Child health advocates are pointing to several different causes for the low attendance rates. There aren’t enough doctors treating Medicaid patients, especially since they could end up on the OIG’s List of Excluded Individuals/Entities if they misuse federal health care programs or mistreat patients. States are also failing to support medicaid providers, and parents aren’t sufficiently aware of the importance of regular visits.

Other experts are blaming state officials for the low screening rates, since the most the federal government could do to force a change is withdraw Medicaid funding.

“The federal government is working hard on this,” Jane Perkins, legal director of the National Health Law Program, told Kaiser Health News. “But the only power they have over states is to take away their funding and that is highly unlikely.”

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