Here's why we need an easy-to-navigate health insurance exchange in Pennsylvania
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As a pediatrician for more than 30 years, I've devoted my life to children's health care, and I've seen how health insurance can be a vital resource in a child's growth and development.
Unfortunately, I'm also familiar with how a lack of insurance can keep kids from a doctor or hospital and allow preventable medical issues to go undiagnosed and untreated -- often becoming more severe and more costly to treat as a result.
Pennsylvania is home to more than 150,000 children who lack health insurance, including more than 5,500 in Allegheny County and about 16,000 in a 10-county region of southwestern Pennsylvania. These are troubling statistics that we can improve by creating a robust, high-quality health insurance exchange for Pennsylvania.
The exchange, a requirement of the federal Affordable Care Act, is a user-friendly online marketplace where consumers can shop for health insurance, including researching and comparing coverage options and costs. It can help parents easily find and purchase affordable health insurance for their families.
Gov. Tom Corbett's recent announcement that Pennsylvania will not set up a state-run exchange is an unfortunate setback for uninsured children and families, but Pennsylvania fortunately still can have a voice in crucial decisions affecting how a federally run exchange would operate in the commonwealth to help uninsured children obtain health insurance coverage.
Why should you care if someone else's child has no health insurance? Because when all Pennsylvania children have access to quality physical and behavioral health care, we all benefit.
Children have better school attendance and stronger academic performance, working parents are less likely to miss work to care for a sick child, and the commonwealth's employers benefit from more productive, focused employees. In that sense, health care reform is much more than just a health care issue; it's an economic development issue. After all, the kids in school today will be Pennsylvania's workforce in the decades to come.
Access to the health care system is especially important in a child's earliest years. There is a critical window of cognitive and behavioral development when a child is an infant, toddler or preschooler. Medical issues can hamper that development if they go undiagnosed or untreated. The impact this may have on brain development and future school performance can be dramatic. Furthermore, physical or behavioral health issues that go untreated in early years can become much more pronounced -- and much harder and costlier to address -- as a child grows into an adolescent.
We must also remember that keeping our kids healthy is more than just addressing their physical health. To achieve the best outcomes for our children, it is critical that we identify and treat behavioral health issues like anxiety, autism or depression. Research suggests 10 percent to 20 percent of children in the United States have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and many are not receiving coverage for services necessary to treat these disorders.
The medical community in Pennsylvania and across the country has made great strides in recent years in prevention-focused, evidence-based treatment for children's mental health issues, but those efforts are meaningless if children are going undiagnosed because a lack of health insurance is keeping them away from a doctor's office. By helping parents find a health insurance plan that meets their unique family needs, we also are helping ensure these often hard-to-detect behavioral health issues become easier to identify and treat, often making treatment less complicated and less costly.
Pennsylvania has become a national leader in providing universal health care coverage for children through Medicaid, CHIP and Cover All Kids -- an effort supported by governors and lawmakers of both parties for more than two decades. Despite this bipartisan achievement, we still have too many children in southwestern Pennsylvania and the rest of our commonwealth who are uninsured.
Pennsylvania can reach those uninsured children through the creation of a strong, easy-to-navigate health insurance exchange that provides comprehensive coverage to meet all of our children's health care needs.
First Published January 4, 2013 12:00 am