What prepares children for success in life long before they enter school? It starts with their health.
Healthy development, regardless of a child’s birth outcome, begins early in life with timely and regular access to affordable health insurance and care, screenings, therapies and to treatments; healthy brain development; stable access to housing and food; and much more. Focusing on children’s health early in life is more likely to reduce their health care costs when they become adults.
Children are not born ready to take care of themselves. If we want children to succeed early on, we need to ensure that their families succeed and thrive as well. The health of parents and guardians is important to the health of their children.
You may have heard the term “social determinants of health”, the set of factors that also affect the ability and likelihood of being healthy. A strong support system for families positively influences their ability to access and make maximum use of health care services. Crucial public programs like housing, access to food and resources, childcare support and transportation services should be prioritized and supported by policy makers. Too often we see resistance from the Kansas Legislature to help these programs be accessible to families.
The health of children and their families directly impacts their ability to attend school, work and participate in their community, but Kansas lawmakers haven’t done enough to support policies that will improve outcomes health of all Kansans. We don’t fund or prioritize systems that will help children – and their families. If people want to see our children succeed and grow up healthy, we need to change our priorities and where we focus our energy to find solutions.
We all want people in our communities to get the health care services they need. But health starts with access to and affordability of insurance, which is a major obstacle for far too many Kansans.
About 38,000 Kansas children do not have insurance coverage, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. This is a barrier that hinders parents’ ability to provide their children with the care they need, such as regular checkups and vaccinations.
Currently, Kansas parents who earn less than 38% of the federal poverty level (only $8,760 per year for a family of three) can qualify for KanCare. But if that same family’s income is between $8,761 and $23,030 (100% federal poverty line for a family of three), adults are not eligible for KanCare or premium assistance in the federal insurance exchange.
Although 39 other states (plus the District of Columbia) are expanding their Medicaid programs, the Kansas Legislature still refuses to expand KanCare, which would help tens of thousands of Kansans access coverage. This would begin to remove a growing barrier for many parents: earning too much to qualify, but too little to access insurance on their own.
All Kansans deserve adequate health care, regardless of income, race, zip code, identity or ability. Yet, serious disparities continue to exist between races and ethnicities and in rural areas, particularly with regard to infant and maternal mortality and health complications. Kansas should support, adopt, and fund measures that study disparities in health outcomes and prevent these negative outcomes through targeted public health policy.
Increasing postnatal Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days to 12 months was an important first step by the Kansas Legislature earlier this year, but Kansas must also continue to invest more in infrastructure and services. maternal and child health services such as local health services, the Tiny-K Program and newborn screening.
New and seasoned lawmakers will return to the Statehouse in January. The children of Kansas – and their future health and development – rely on these decision makers to make Kansas a place where every child can achieve their best potential.
Heather Braum is a health policy advisor for Kansas Action for Children.
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