As the fallout from the Flint, Mich., contaminated drinking water crisis continues, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will seek permission from the federal government to allow people under the age of 21 to receive publicly funded health care for lead exposure.
“We’re focused on protecting the health and welfare of Flint residents, especially children and young adults who might have been exposed to lead,” Snyder said in a statement. “We want to make sure comprehensive medical care services are available, and we hope the federal government will partner in our efforts.”
It was discovered several months ago that children in the financially strapped city have high levels of lead in their blood, in part because of the state’s decision to switch Flint’s water supply. Doctors and public health officials estimate that thousands of children under the age of 6 years living in Flint may have been exposed, the Detroit Free Press reports.
By expanding Medicaid coverage to Flint residents from birth to age 21, Snyder’s proposal would offer comprehensive benefits to all children and young adults who may have come into contact with lead in the water. It is unclear how many young people may receive new or expanded services as a result of the governor’s request, the Free Press reported.
Research has tied high levels of lead in blood to learning disabilities, poor classroom performance, impaired growth, and even hearing loss.
Numerous studies detail the significant negative effects of lead toxicity on learning and educational attainment, and the associated costs, including the rise in special education services for developmentally delayed students.
The state also plans to seek additional resources to bolster community-based services to address behavioral issues arising from lead exposure.
This month, a group of community members and medical professionals created the Flint Child Health & Development Fund, established at the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, that will help pay for “critical public health, medical, and community-based services” to mitigate the short- and long-term challenges the city’s children may face.
State officials also said they are unsure of the total cost of Snyder’s proposal, which would require state money in addition to federal funds. The governor will submit the proposal to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Snyder has faced intense public criticism and scrutiny for the water crisis. He has publicly apologized, acknowledging that he and members of his administration made mistakes in not preventing and halting the crisis after warning signs indicated that a problem existed.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.