NEA Member Calls on Congress and Court to Protect Health Care for Children
By Robert McNeely
For Wilfred Dunn, a fifth grade teacher in Little Rock, Arkansas and NEA member, a student’s heartbreaking story illustrates why all children deserve to come to school healthy and ready to learn. The student’s family could not afford the daily medication for his attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. Without his medicine, he couldn’t focus enough to learn and became a distraction to the other students, making it hard for them to learn as well. Dunn believes situations like this one have become far too commonplace in his school system and that health care programs need to be available to all students and their families.
Dunn was one of the speakers on the steps of the United States Supreme Court on Wednesday at a press conference sponsored by a coalition of organizations to support the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The historic health care reform law, passed by Congress in 2010, is being challenged this week in the nation’s highest court. On Wednesday, the nine justices heard arguments for and against the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and subsidies that will bring health care to millions of low-income Americans.
Dunn told the crowd about his students back in Little Rock and how programs like Medicaid are critical to the students and families his district serves.
“Without Medicaid, many of my students would come to school sick and would spend class time at the nurse’s office or feeling miserable at their desks instead of learning.”
Joining Dunn today were Barbara Coufal, co-chair of Health Care for America Now and assistant director of Federal Government Affairs at the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Ohio and New Mexico State Representatives Ted Celeste and Ray Begaye, New York State family physician Dr. L. Toni Lewis, retirees Linda and Eric Christenson from Virginia, and retired U.S. postal worker Theodore Method.
“Some of our students wear prescription glasses, while others have hearing aids,” Dunn said. “Thanks to Medicaid these students have coverage for eye exams and glasses and hearing exams and hearing aids. Thanks to Medicaid our students have dental coverage—they don’t have to miss school because they have a toothache and their families can’t afford dental care.”
“If students are healthy, they want to work more and overall feel better about their day.”
Dunn’s school, Wilson Elementary, was the lowest performing school in Little Rock, but had made the most progress of any school in the state in student proficiency over the last year. He credited programs like Medicaid for helping his students come to school healthy and happy.
Unfortunately, as the speakers on Wednesday warned, Medicaid is under attack in Congress. Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed budget will, if passed, cut $810 billion dollars from the Medicaid over the next ten years and effectively eliminate the Medicare program.
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel says the Ryan budget sets the wrong priorities for America.
“His budget is an American dream killer. He wants to balance the budget on the backs of the nation’s most vulnerable—low- and moderate-income Americans, children and seniors—while giving millionaires, billionaires, and big oil corporations deeper tax cuts. In short, it makes a mockery of shared sacrifice.”
If Ryan’s cuts were ever to become law and the Court overturns key provisions of the ACA, low-income families would feel the brunt. Speaking at the event on Wednesday, Ohio State Rep. Ted Celeste noted that not only is Medicaid a cost-effective way for lower-income families to receive healthcare, but it is the only way some families can receive proper care.
Dunn urged politicians to recognize and understand the deep impact their decisions have on the daily lives of low-income families.
“It’s going to hurt my kids and kids across the nation,” Dunn said. “These students depend on being able to feel well to succeed in school. We’re the adults, and it’s our job to protect them.”
“Taking away our children’s health care sabotages their health, their education, and the opportunity for the bright future that every child deserves.”
Wilfred Dunn Talks About Medicaid on C-SPAN