NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Khalil Pereira was on his way home from college when the unthinkable happened.
The freshman and his friends were cruising along the Garden State Parkway in a silver Pontiac Grand Am when it drove off the road and ultimately rolled across the highway. The crash ejected Pereira from the backseat.
At just 18 years old, he suffered a severe traumatic brain injury.
After weeks in intensive care, Pereira spent half a year at Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick. There, he learned once again how to walk, talk, eat, breathe and operate his body, according to the hospital. But that wouldn’t have been possible, Pereira said, without Medicaid—which paid for his cranioplasty surgery, visits to the neurosurgeon, various outpatient therapies and other care.
For that reason, Pereira, now 22, and his mother, Shanette Pereira, trekked to Washington, D.C., last Thursday, July 13, to share their story with lawmakers as part of “Speak Now for Kids Family Advocacy Day.” Alongside Warren E. Moore, the hospital’s president and CEO, they hoped to inspire politicians to protect Medicaid funding for children.
“Children’s Specialized Hospital saved my son’s life,” Shanette Pereira said in a statement. “As a single mother, I don't know what I would have done without Medicaid benefits to cover the six months of inpatient rehabilitation that allowed Khalil to walk, talk, eat and breathe on his own again.”
Medicaid is on the chopping block in more ways than one.
President Donald Trump’s budget calls for hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to be cut from the decades-old program, which is also the nation’s largest health insurer. The House has already passed a health care bill that would slash even more from Medicaid, and the Senate has considered several laws with similar effects.
Experts and advocates have said that any funding cut could harm people, while those proposed stand to upend the system. Republicans, meanwhile, have argued that the entitlement program is bloated and must be reined in.
Roughly 1.8 million New Jersey residents are enrolled in Medicaid—and more than 800,000 are children, according to the medical center. Indeed, half of the kids who received treatment from Children’s Specialized Hospital last year were covered by Medicaid.
Pereira—a North Brunswick resident—his mom and Moore met with U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a staffer from Sen. Cory Booker’s office and U.S. Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman, Leonard Lance and Frank Pallone. All represent New Jersey, and all are Democrats, except for Lance, who is a Republican.
The New Brunswick delegation told lawmakers “how Medicaid coverage benefitted [Pereira’s] care and how the House and Senate health care bills could negatively affect the lives of other children receiving care at Children’s Specialized Hospital,” according to a news release.
“Many families of children like Khalil will face major health care challenges,” Moore, the hospital’s president, said in a statement. “It is important to protect Medicaid to allow these families to focus on their child’s care and recovery.”