Why close the gap? Kids’ health depends on it

Doctor listening to boy’s heartbeat with stethoscope
Doctor listening to boy’s heartbeat with stethoscope www.jupiterimages.com

As a mom, I know how important it was for me to be healthy before I had my “babies” — who are both grown and away now. As a pediatrician at a major birthing hospital, I see this reality played out for other women every day. How healthy they were before they got pregnant is a major factor in how healthy their babies are when they are born..

North Carolina struggles with the dubious distinction of having an infant mortality rate significantly higher than the national average. We can save babies’ lives by bringing health coverage and routine preventive care to their mothers. Not only will babies be more likely to survive to their first birthdays, but they are also less likely to be born prematurely or to need costly interventions that go along with preterm birth. Healthy parents create healthy babies and a healthy birth sets the stage for a healthy life.

Affordable, reliable health coverage is so important for helping parents be healthy themselves and helping them be better parents. Raising children is not easy. It takes sustained energy, focus, love, and attention to help a child thrive. When parents are not healthy, they are not able to be there for their kids in all the ways that kids need. Untreated health conditions like diabetes or asthma can lead to long-term, painful complications that take away a parent’s time, attention, and make it harder for parents to give kids the care and nurture they need for good development and health.

That’s why the North Carolina Pediatric Society has included improving access to health care on our policy agenda. More than half a million North Carolinians are unable to see a doctor when they need one because reliable health insurance is out of reach. Insurance can help ensure future parents are healthy before they become parents and improve birth outcomes. When low-income parents are enrolled in Medicaid, their children are 29 percent more likely to have a well-child visit. Health insurance can also help parents address their own health issues, including physical and behavioral concerns, supporting them in their parental roles.

Children’s health coverage has come a long way in North Carolina in the time I’ve been a practicing pediatrician. Through hard work and strategic policy changes, we have been able to increase the percentage of children with health insurance to a terrific 96 percent. Coverage lets children get the preventive care they need to stay well, and the comprehensive care to deal with what life throws at them. That’s a legacy to be proud of. Now, we need to turn our savvy towards expanding health care options for the grown-ups who shape the communities of our children.

The NC Pediatric Society’s mission is to empower pediatricians and our partners to foster the physical, social, and emotional well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. One of the most important things we can do to foster that well-being, is to support parents. We are calling on North Carolina’s legislators to expand health insurance options– to be there for the parents and children who make up this great state.

Dr. Susan Mims, MD, MPH, FAAP, is a pediatrician in Asheville, and the president of the NC Pediatric Society.