Child advocacy group Action for Children and researchers at the NC Institute of Medicine collaborate this year to again release the NC Child Health Report Card. This year, despite the downturn in the economy, the report contains some good news. NC’s infant death rate has reached the lowest ever recorded, though NC still ranks poorly in comparison to other states. There are significant declines in teen pregnancy rates and in tobacco use and substance abuse. In the area of prevention, exposure to toxins like lead is declining while management and early intervention for chronic illnesses like asthma is increasing.
Why the good news? Ironically, the economic downturn may indirectly be a cause: loss of private health insurance coverage has meant many children joining public health insurance programs under NC Medicaid and NC Health Choice. And children in NC’s public health insurance programs are getting more coordinated and arguably better health care than many kids with employer-based coverage because of NC’s nationally-recognized Community Care program. Community Care coordinates care with physician practices, hospitals, emergency rooms and community clinics to make sure children are getting the right medications, seeing the right specialists, limiting unnecessary emergency room visits, and getting the best care health care possible: this not only results in better care but is also saving hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
Other government initiatives contributing to better children’s health? The drop in motor vehicle deaths and injuries is directly attributable to NC’s graduated drivers licensing program, a system now copied by a majority of states. Reduction in teen tobacco use? Thank higher cigarette taxes and NC’s new law prohibiting smoking in bars and restaurants.
So, mean old government – which we are supposed to get rid of as quickly as possible apparently – is having a substantial and positive effect on children’s health. Many of these policy changes haven’t been easy, but agency policymakers and state leaders should be proud that the investments and changes they have been able to make over the past few years are resulting in measurable gains for children.
Of course, looming cutbacks in all these programs and efforts can quickly erase these hardfought gains. All the more reason as NC enters what will be a really tough budget year to put all options on the table – both taxes and cutbacks – to preserve these important improvements in the lives of NC’s children.