• Article
  • November 21, 2018

Military-Connected Kids and Medicaid: Ensuring Military Readiness

New report shows children of active duty military members and veterans rely on Medicaid.

Anthony Putney was working as an air traffic controller in Japan aboard the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk when his developmentally typical 15-month-old, Lily, got an ear infection. Her condition spiraled out of control and the family was evacuated—first to Hawaii and then to Los Angeles, where Lily was admitted to Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

She was hospitalized for five months and suffered more than 50,000 seizures during her stay. Eventually, Lily was diagnosed with presumed viral encephalitis, which led to cerebral palsy. She returned home to her family, but her medical complexities required constant care, a variety of therapies and special equipment to get her through daily life.

TRICARE, the Department of Defense insurance program, had always provided excellent coverage to the Putneys. But as Lily's needs grew, it was clear that just like most commercial insurance plans, TRICARE wasn't equipped to meet the needs of a child with medical complexity.TRICARE couldn't provide Lily with the at-home nursing she needed, and it couldn't get her all the equipment to live comfortably at home. However, Medicaid was available to Lily and became a critical source of coverage, filling in the gaps TRICARE missed. 

Each year, Medicaid helps 37 million children in the U.S. get the coverage they need to access vital health care services. These kids come from every state, and while some need the program for preventive visits, others rely on it for complex, ongoing care. Some children qualify based on their family's income, and others utilize Medicaid because of their complicated medical needs. 

How Medicaid connects to military families

A report released the week of Veteran's Day by the Tricare for Kids Coalition revealed something new about the children who depend on Medicaid—about 3.6 million of them come from military-connected families. By enabling children in active service and veteran families to access the care they need, Medicaid does more than provide health coverage to the nation's children; it helps ensure our military readiness, today and into the future.

About 200,000 of these children have a parent actively serving the country. These kids represent roughly 10 percent of kids in active service military families TRICARE covers. Many of them, like Lily, are covered due to serious medical conditions requiring the specialized pediatric “wraparound” programs Medicaid provides. Medicaid helps ensure our current military readiness by allowing active service parents to worry less and instead focus on the mission. 

The transition to civilian life 

Lucas attends basic training.
Lucas, right, attends Navy Basic Training Graduation while his family watches.

Inspired by his daughter, Anthony became a nurse. A commissioned Navy Nurse Corps officer, his training served him well at home and at work. As Lily grew, her needs changed but never diminished—she requires care around the clock. Eventually, after 23 years of service, Anthony separated from the Navy on Jan. 1, 2017, with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. 

Having served more than 20 years in the Navy, Anthony's departure was classified as retirement and he and his family remained on TRICARE. But as the years go by, Lily will always need Medicaid.

While one ear infection changed everything for the Putneys, the family adapted to Lily's needs and continued to grow and thrive. In fact, Lucas, one of Lily's younger brothers, just embarked on the adventure of a lifetime—he entered Navy Basic Training.  

3.4 million children in veteran families

In addition to active service members, 3.4 million children of veterans in the United States rely on Medicaid. Many of these children's parents did not stay in the armed services long enough to maintain access to TRICARE benefits; but while health coverage is usually available to the veteran through the Department of Veterans Affairs, this coverage does not extend to their children. 

Many of these 3.4 million kids qualify for Medicaid based on income, though some like Lily need the program because of their complex medical issues. Regardless, Medicaid helps ensure they can all meet their full potential. For many, that will eventually include military service. 

Children of service members are more than twice as likely as their peers to join the armed forces as adults. In fact, almost 80 percent of new recruits have a family member who served. By supporting children in veteran families, Medicaid helps ensure tomorrow's military readiness. 

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