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Title: Toward a National Children's Health Policy

Category: Access To Children's Health Care


At the recent American Academy of Pediatrics convention in Boston, pollster Louis Harris delivered the keynote address. The title was "Moving Toward A National Children's Health Policy". In his 30 minute address, Mr. Harris outlined several polls which show that it is time for a well-planned national children's health policy. He showed through polls on attitudes of people throughout the nation that a majority of the public is ready for such a change and would be ready to vote for it and pay higher tax if necessary for it. He praised the American Academy of Pediatrics for being one of the few groups in the United States which has consistently been an advocate for children and has fought for legislative change to protect and provide for children in our society.

Mr. Harris described the 80's as a decade of negligence and greed where the attitude is "Get it while you can and let the rest of society get what it can". He said that the nation is now changing its attitude and is about to turn this shallow attitude around and vote for leaders who will provide better for the mainstream of America. He said that 1/4th of children in our society are poor despite the affluence of America in general. One third of the 33 million Americans without insurance are children. Only 1/2 of poor children qualify for medicaid according to the standards of most states in the United States. Louisiana is one of the lowest of the states requiring a child to live in a home in which the annual income is 1/4 of the poverty level. Some other states are better and allow children to qualify for medicaid cards whose families are 3/4 of the poverty level. About 1/3 of children in general throughout our society are not properly immunized. About 1/2 of poor children are not properly immunized against the basic dreaded diseases including diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella. AIDS is increasing at greater than 200 percent and soon will be one of the top five causes of childhood deaths in America. Child abuse has soared in the past ten years, greater than 200 percent. Despite this, federal funding has decreased for care of child abuse victims. And the basic infrastructure to take care of these children has been eroding away while the need has been increasing. The national infant mortality is stuck at greater than 9 per 1000 born infants which is the bottom of the heap among industrialized nations of the world. This is despite the fact that our standard of living is higher than most of the other countries, and the superiority of our medical technology. Despite these discouraging statistics, we have had no progress including prenatal care or universal access of all women to receive prenatal care. After their high-risk infants are born underweight and at high risk for developmental delay, we have no program set up to provide for their needs so that they can catch up and be successful through life.

Mr. Harris shows statistics in which the recent national survey shows that approximately 6 in 10 Americans are unhappy with the present medical system compared with one in four individuals in Canada with their system. About 89% were dissatisfied with the health system in America. The majority of Americans would prefer the Canadian system over the American. Mr. Harris said we will get some form of national health insurance by 1995. It will not be socialized medicine and it will not come about through the Federal government. He predicts that it will come about through pressure from business which cannot afford to continue paying the high cost of providing for its employees.

Mr. Harris said that he along with the American Academy of Pediatrics hopes that a child care legislation will come about with such changes in national health care. He is concerned, however, that the proposals from Senator Hatch and others may go down the drain because of budget cuts and pressure from other areas. Most of the child care legislation proposed would actually be only 1% of the total defense budget, to put it in perspective. Mr. Harris said that most of the public would accept cuts in some programs with progressivity; in other words, if the costs are shared fairly across the board in society they will accept cuts where cuts have to be made, but they demand better support for basic needed child support programs. He cited several statistics including the fact that hunger is increasing in children in America. One sixth of American families are living under the poverty level; one fourth of all children in America are living in poverty. Sexual abuse is increasing dramatically. Sexual assault is increasing. A large percentage of children in our society live without a home headed by loving parents. Many of these children do not get basic medical care or live in a safe neighborhood. Children deserve to receive quality health care while their parents are working as well as quality safe day care. His polls show that seven out of ten Americans demand federal help to build a decent child care structure for our country. Six in ten parents on a daily basis, or three days a week, are unsure where their children will be placed for that day. Only 27% of Americans polled felt they were satisfied with child care that stands in America today, while 47% feel that the current child care system is not working.

Interesting studies show that there is a three tier system of child care in America today. The wealthy receive very good child care. The indigent may receive good child care through federal programs or United Way or single parents helping each other out in households. The worst tier includes the working poor or the mainstream of America who are paying a lot for child care but who are being provided, in most cases, inadequate, unsafe and poorly regulated child care. Nine tenths of Americans polled feel that it is critical for working parents to be able to take off 12 weeks for child care leave without fear of losing their job. The public must get behind the need for a sensible child care leave policy as is present in most modern countries in the world today. Three fourths of Americans poll- ed want the recently proposed ADC bill passed. Money had been allocated (2.5 billion dollars) for this bill but if the bill is not reenacted and passed, the money may be lost.

In summary, a national child health policy is needed to organize quality child care and social education on health provisions for young children in our society. This should be provided for all children regardless of the income of their parents or the present living situation of their parents. Eight tenths of Americans polled do want minimum regulatory standards for child care. Thirty-seven percent of all school children come from disadvantaged homes, and by the year 2001 it is predicted that 75% of our work force will come from these children having grown up. Unfortunately, our country is beginning to pay the price for negligence of this large segment of our population. Are we a nation doomed to second class status in competing against countries such as West Germany and Korea which has a 70% functional literacy compared to 25% functional literacy.

Mr. Harris felt that at the heart of all these issues is whether we are going to teach the young of America to think and care for themselves. We need a community infrastructure with proper health care, enough to eat and proper clothing, discipline and the instilling of a desire to learn for our children. We must become partners with parents and educators to accomplish this goal. Mr. Harris closed his speech by saying we must join together to accomplish these goals for all humanities sake.