Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: We Must Be Advocates for Our Children

Category: Access To Children's Health Care


At the recent American Academy of Pediatrics week long annual convention in Boston, a hot topic of discussion throughout the week was the need for a well-planned and properly integrated national child health program. This was the main focus of the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Burt Harvey, in his speech to the convention. It also was the main theme covered by pollster, Louis Harris who delivered the keynote address. It also was the main theme of another popular speaker, Bob Keeshan, who was formerly Captain Kangaroo for almost 40 years on TV. These three individuals as well as several other pediatricians around the country addressed the need of a sensible integrated national child health policy.

Dr. Harvey outlined many of the problems in the present system which is very complicated for many in the population to use. First of all, there are many overlapping programs including medicaid, EPSDT, maternal and infant care clinics, children in youth clinics, community health centers, migrant health centers, Indian health services, Headstart, Champus, and several others on a state and local level. You could imagine that a poor person with a sick child has a difficult time working through the maze of all of these services to provide the complex medical needs of their child. Also, each system has its own special several digit numbers which are not coordinated between the systems. Each system has a complex bureaucracy which has to be worked through. The qualifications to be serviced in each system are different.

In summary, a simple universal access system for all children in our country to be provided their needed medical care should be planned. This is a five year goal of the American Academy of Pediatrics working with the Public Health Service and several other children's advocacy agencies in the federal government. In the past ten to twenty years the general welfare of children has suffered in the United States. Examples of this include the fact that the percentage of children now living in poverty increased by about 25% over the past ten years. The percentage of children who cannot qualify for health insurance increased by 13% in the past five years. There are approximately 10 to 12 million children with no public or private insurance in the United States today. About 65% of US children without insurance live in single parent households or households in which a working parent cannot obtain insurance for their dependents. Though the percentage of poverty in the older population has decreased to under 10%, the percentage of children living in poverty has increased almost 20%. Children can't decide which state or community they are born into and deserve access to good health care and a country that cares enough about them to provide it for all children, regardless of where they live or what their parents do. Despite the economic woes America is facing today, we must address a sensible policy. We must carve out a sensible policy to provide the needs of our young or the future of our country will certainly be worse off. Simple things like adequate nutrition for an infant in the first year of life is critical to their growing brain. Without it they will be disadvantaged the rest of their life and obviously cost society much more in the long run. The fact that 25% of children now live in a single parent household and up to 60% of children will, at sometime during their life, causes problems with what to do with the child if the parent tries to work. We need a sensible day care policy and a national support system so that all children can receive safe, competent day care so that they can be prepared to start school and succeed and grow up to be productive citizens. Again, even if this is not done on a moral basis it can be done for financial reasons because these children, if not properly cared for early on, will have failure throughout life and be much more likely to cost society in the long run.

Even parenting today in the American family is suffering and a system could be set up through schools around the country to provide help and support for young struggling parents, single or married. Proper prenatal care and nutrition should be supported so that a higher percentage of babies will be born healthy and we will decrease our infant mortality rate. All infants and children should be properly immunized to prevent the dreaded diseases which are on the rise including measles and pertussis. All of these goals are very basic and are being provided in countries across Europe and throughout the world where they are not as well off in general as the United States. Working out an organized child health policy which will meet all of these needs and provide universal access to all children is not going to be easy and is not going to be cheap. If we do not do it now, it will cost much more later. It's time for a bold step as outlined by Dr. Harvey, the president of the AAP and seconded by at least a dozen key speakers at the recent pediatric convention. I urge everyone to be an advocate for children through your voting, politically and through your local community in every way possible by supporting your schools, public and private, your local health departments and all centers that try to provide care for children. We must be advocates for children or the future of our nation will not be as bright as it has been in the past.