Opinion Children Without Health Insurance Are At Greatest Risk

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a national sponsor of the recent ‘Cover the Uninsured Week,’ is committed to getting health insurance coverage for the more than 9 million children and adolescents in the United States who are currently uninsured. 

As president of the AAP, I believe that health care for every child should be a fundamental right — and not just in emergency situations. Every child should have a medical home where a physician can provide consistent, comprehensive care, including annual physical exams, vaccinations, comprehensive diagnostic and therapeutic interventions, and referrals to a specialist when required.

Although children are the least expensive segment of the population to insure, they are the least able to take control over whether or not they have insurance. Children are also extremely vulnerable to the long-term effects of not receiving needed health care.

Without access to important preventive and comprehensive health care, children are unnecessarily at risk of lifelong health problems and catastrophic illness. For example, compared to insured children, uninsured children:

• Are more likely to be hospitalized for conditions that could have been treated by a primary-care doctor;
• Are up to six times more likely to have gone without needed medical, dental, or other health care;
• Are up to four times more likely to have delayed seeking care because their parents were worried about the cost of treatment;
• Are nearly six times less likely to get needed prescriptions filled; and
• Are up to 10 times less likely to have a regular source of care.

We all bear the costs of care for children who have no health insurance. We pay in higher taxes, higher hospital bills, and runaway insurance premiums. We are usually paying for the care of the uninsured in crisis situations that might have been averted if access to preventive care were available to every child and adolescent, regardless of family income.

Health care early in life pays large dividends over time since maintaining good health is key to developmental and educational success. It’s a low-cost, high-yield investment, especially because most children are healthy and their health care needs are comparatively inexpensive to adults.

The AAP has supported congressional action to ensure that every child in the country has access to health care. During the 108th Congress, the AAP will evaluate health insurance legislation for its ability to provide children with quality care. In addition to legislation that addresses the uninsured population, the academy also supports maintaining public programs like Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) that currently provide insurance coverage for more than 27 million children.

Pediatricians play a critical and growing role in providing health care to children. General pediatricians provided nearly two-thirds of children’s office visits to primary care physicians.

The time is right to make the health and well-being of America’s children a national priority. Providing health care security to children is achievable, affordable, and necessary.

Dr. Edwards is president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of 57,000 primary-care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists, and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety, and well-being of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.

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