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Delaying A Child's Health Care: A Lifetime of Consequences

by Irwin Redlener, MD, Co-Founder and President, CHF

A recent study published in the prestigious journal, Health Affairs, underscored some of the grim realities associated with the persistent recession and the loss of jobs in the United States. The study reports that for every 1,000 jobs lost by a parent in 2000-2004, 311 children with private insurance lost health coverage.  The situation is even more dramatic for low-income children. For every 1,000 jobs lost by an economically disadvantaged parent, 456 low-income children with private insurance lost health coverage.  And, the highest rates of losing coverage (40%) were seen among Hispanic children whose parents become unemployed. These are troubling statistics given that lack of health insurance can delay a child's health care which, even for a short time, can mean a lifetime of consequences.

Without health care, children with asthma can face serious complications in the form of disabling attacks requiring hospital care or symptoms that greatly interfere with school performance; untreated ear infections may lead to hearing loss; and undiagnosed developmental or emotional problems can become life-long burdens. 

Clearly, health care insurance reform is an important first step towards securing health insurance coverage for children.  But it is vitally important to remember that health insurance does not equal health care. There are many other serious challenges for millions of children who need health care, but can't get even the basics.  For instance, many families live in medical shortage areas with too few doctors and others can't get to care because affordable transportation is not available in their communities. This means delayed care and overuse of emergency rooms where costs are exorbitant, even though comprehensive care and follow-up are not even available.

CHF's national child health programs are working to overcome these non-insurance barriers everyday in places as varied as West Virginia and downtown Phoenix.

We should not be surprised to learn that a bad economy and severe unemployment can affect access to health care for children, as well as for adult family members. What concerns me is that we as a country cannot think that health insurance reform, alone, will solve access to care for children. The gaps and challenges will remain. That's why advocates need to stay in the game, making sure that all of the challenges facing children are addressed before we can declare victory.

1 The Impact Of Parental Job Loss On Children’s Health Insurance Coverage