Parents of Twins Fight Proposed Medicaid Cuts: 'They wouldn't be here today'

HEBER SPRINGS, Ark. - As protesters chanted outside of Sen. Tom Cotton's office in Little Rock Friday, a family in Heber Springs tried to make their voices heard about the same thing: the controversial American Health Care Act.

The current legislation, which House Republicans narrowly passed last month, would kick more than 23 million Americans off their health insurance. The GOP recently announced the U.S. Senate will vote on it by the end of June.

If passed, the bill could jeopardize Medicaid coverage for the 60 percent of Arkansas kids who are covered by it, which is the highest percentage of any state in the country. 

"Look at how little you were," said Candyce Allen, pointing to a picture of her son, Kenneth, when he was a baby.

"Aw!," squealed Kenneth's twin, Chloe. 

"The kids come to work every day," Candyce said. 

The Heber Springs mother and her two nine year olds sat on one of the many couches in their family-owned furniture store, Allen Furniture, as they looked through old family photos Friday morning. 

"That one is when you were in the NICU," Candyce said to Chloe. 

Kenneth and Chloe Allen were born 15 weeks early, weighing a total of three pounds. Chloe stayed in the NICU at Arkansas Children's Hospital for 196 days while Kenneth stayed 316 days, both going home with oxygen and feeding tubes, countless medications and more.

"Who's the oldest?," Candyce asked them.

"Me," Chloe said proudly. 

However, the siblings had a big sister, Cara, who didn't get to go home with them. 

"When I'm 150 years old, I'll see her in heaven," Chloe said. 

Since then, Candyce and her husband, Greg, have had too many scares that that moment could come much sooner. 

"I couldn't count the number of times that they've been in the hospital," Candyce said. 

The parents also lost track of the number of surgeries Kenneth and Chloe have had. 

"I had a surgical mask like those surgeons wear," said Kenneth, pointing to a picture of him in a hospital bed. 

Today, the twins each depend on six hours of therapy every week, including time with speech, occupational and physical therapists, among other services.

"If it wasn't for the Medicaid services we get, they would not be who they are today," Candyce said. "Let alone, they wouldn't be here today." 

Kenneth more so than Chloe.

"The sad thing is is our son would probably grow up one day and be in a home, which honestly is going to cost more money in the long run," Candyce said. 

Services the Allens and many more Arkansans depend on could soon go away if the AHCA passes in its current form. It proposes cutting funding for American children by more than $40 billion by 2026.

"We should consider Medicaid to really be an investment in our children," said Marcy Doderer, the president and CEO of Arkansas Children's Hospital. "It's not a lifelong obligation that the government helps support the health care needs of kids in these situations."

Doderer knows that firsthand. Her 19-year-old daughter, who has significant health care needs due to a breathing disorder, has relied on Medicaid up until now. 

"Without being able to know we had that total package taken care of, in-home and in-hospital care for her, she may not be attending college today," Doderer said.

Candyce hopes she can tell a similar success story in ten years about her kids, especially Kenneth, who was never supposed to walk or talk. 

"Right now, he is on track to be a productive citizen that will go on and have a job, hopefully a family one day, pay his taxes," she said. "But if those services stopped, there's a very good chance he couldn't."

Candyce and her husband call their son their "little contradiction to science."

"Listen, listen," she told Kenneth and Chloe as they talked excitedly over each other, both trying to grab the iPad to show another picture. "Hold on."

The twins may be a handful at times at nine years old, but they're far from the little miracle babies who once fit in Candyce's hand. 

"Can you picture that?," she asked them as she held out her hand. "You were that little."

"Aw!." Chloe squealed again.

"Sometimes I'm like, 'Please slow down!,'" Candyce said. "And then I have to stop and go, 'Don't slow down! Just do whatever you want and keep going 100 miles an hour.' That's more than what we thought they could ever do."

According to Doderer, Arkansans would lose $500 million in federal dollars under the current version of the AHCA.

The president and CEO had a message for the Arkansas Congressional delegation: think about children. 

"Don't simply chase the dollars," Doderer said. "Talk about the health of children, our most important resource for the future as a country, right?"

Doderer asked lawmakers in Washington to dream up a "Medikid" program, similar to the Medicare program for the older population. 

"Something that allows us to ensure at the beginning of our lives as Americans, we have access to coverage, benefits and care, too," she said. 


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