The Fayetteville Observer
By Jennifer Calhoun
The number of children lacking health insurance in the state rose dramatically between 2003 and 2007, according to a report from a children’s health advocacy group.
The annual report, released today by Action for Children North Carolina, used statistics to monitor the health and well-being of children over a wide range of topics, including economic security, safety, early care, education and delinquency prevention.
According to the report, the percentage of children without health care increased by 10 percent in the past four years. Children without insurance are more likely to miss school because of illnesses.
Also topping the list of concerns were increases in low birth weights, infant mortality rates, the number of overweight children, incidents of school violence and health disparities among minorities, the report said.
In addition, the number of poor children in working households increased by half between 2004 and 2007, because of the growth of low-wage jobs and stagnating salaries, the report stated.
As a result, the report stated that more children are being raised in high-stress environments that can hurt brain development and the ability to learn.
Tom Vitaglione, senior fellow at Action for Children, said the concerns highlighted in the report could result in big challenges for legislators in the coming years.
But despite some of the report’s grim findings, progress has been made in North Carolina through services such as Head Start, a pre-school program, and even insurance coverage, the report stated.
Nearly half of the state’s 2.2 million children younger than 18 received public health insurance last year through state programs — a big improvement over previous years’ numbers, Vitaglione said.
But private health insurance coverage is being lost faster than the state can deal with it.
“We’re doing better,” Vitaglione said. “The anomaly is that the uninsured rate is going up, because dependant coverage on employer health care plans is dropping faster than we can insure them.”
But there is good news on the horizon, he said.
Thanks to the recently passed federal economic stimulus package and increases in funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, more children are expected to be insured on state insurance plans, he said.
From the stimulus package, the state will receive $2.5 billion for a variety of health care initiatives, one of which could include funding for Kid’s Care, a state program which expands insurance coverage to families who made too much money to be eligible in state insurance program.
Kid’s Care was recently passed by the state legislature, pending federal funding, Vitaglione said.
The State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, will receive about $38 million, which will allow more families access to the state’s Health Choice insurance plan, he said.
The report outlined other improvements in children’s health and well-being, as well.
Since 2004, there have been drops in delinquency rates, the number of teens seriously contemplating suicide and incidences of untreated tooth decay.
Many of these improvements are the result of an increase in the number and scope of public and private health care programs, the report said.
But big problems still loom, especially in the realm of minority health disparities, said Alexandra Sirota, director of policy and research at Action for Children.
“Children of color are experiencing disproportionately negative (health) outcomes,” Sirota said.