What’s Quality, Affordable Health Care Got to do With it? Access to quality health care gives children the healthy start they deserve. Kids who receive good health care whenever they need it are more likely to arrive at school ready to learn, and leave childhood prepared to contribute to their communities. Families without quality health insurance are financially vulnerable. One of the leading causes of bankruptcy is lack of access to good, affordable health insurance. This goes beyond the issue of cost. Parents with untreated health problems have trouble maintaining steady employment because they miss work so often. Wisconsin can reduce poverty and help Wisconsin children reach their full potential by ensuring that all children, regardless of race, ethnicity or economic background, have access to high quality, culturally competent, preventive health care, including dental and mental health care.
How Is Wisconsin Doing Right Now? Wisconsin has long been a leader in innovative approaches to providing health care access for children. Even before the approval of BadgerCare Plus, Wisconsin ranked 4th nationally in percentage of insured children. Wisconsin also ranks fairly high for many other health care indicators, such as timely prenatal care, low teen birth rates, and low rates of hunger and food insecurity.
However, many Wisconsin children still do not have access to health care services, particularly dental care and mental health services. About three-quarters of Medicaid and BadgerCare participants between the ages of 3 and 20 received no dental services at all in 2006, even though both programs provide dental benefits. In addition, Wisconsin has very large racial and ethnic disparities in health care access and outcomes. Black and Hispanic children are more than twice as likely to be uninsured as non-Hispanic white children. The infant mortality rate for Wisconsin’s black children in 2006 was more than three times the rate for non-Hispanic white children.
What Can Wisconsin Do In the Future? Policy Recommendations to Move Us Forward:
Implement and improve BadgerCare Plus: The new BadgerCare Plus program has the potential to make quality, cost-effective health care services available to nearly all children in the state. However, to reach the finish line – quality health care coverage for all of Wisconsin’s children – the state needs help from community organizations, health care providers and the business community to raise awareness about the program and to assist in enrolling eligible families. In addition, the program can be strengthened by extending coverage to immigrant children and ensuring that families who only have access to expensive employer-sponsored plans they can’t afford are not automatically excluded from BadgerCare Plus.
Fund innovative strategies to increase access to dental care: Having health insurance does not always translate into access to needed health care services. Sometimes the needed services are simply not available close enough to home. Dental care is a prime example. Most low-income children do not have access to dental care, even though they me be covered by insurance. Untreated dental problems among children have been tied to poor performance in school and trouble with social relationships, both of which can have a devastating effect on future well-being and economic success. Wisconsin should increase its investment in innovative dental service programs, many of which are done in partnership with public health clinics. We should also implement strategies to increase the number of dentists who serve low-income and underserved parts of the state.
Eliminate racial disparities: Wisconsin has substantial racial and ethnic disparities in health care outcomes. Eliminating these disparities will require a long-term commitment to action on many fronts. The state should reform its health care spending to strongly emphasize the prevention and management of chronic health care conditions like asthma and diabetes, which are particularly prevalent among low-income and minority children. Preventable problems like asthma attacks and diabetes lead to school absences and medical costs, putting at-risk kids at even greater risk of falling behind in school. An important step is to ensure that all children have a medical home – a consistent primary health care provider. This will help children get cost-effective treatment and preventive care to keep them healthy. And staying healthy is a key to escaping poverty.
Take Another Step Forward in Your Advocacy! Take the pledge to be part of the Vision 2020 Campaign and get updates on health care and other poverty-related issues and how you can take action to make a difference. Sign the pledge card and get involved at: http://www.2020wi.org/pledge_card.html Help improve health care outcomes and economic security in your community by encouraging a local group to become a qualified community partner, to help people sign up for BadgerCare Plus. To find out more, go to: http://dhfs.wisconsin.gov/badgercareplus/partner.htm Learn more about BadgerCare Plus by going to WCCF’s website at:
http://wccf.org/health_badgercareplus.php Learn about the Healthy Wisconsin plan, which would provide insurance for all state residents, at: http://www.healthywisconsin.net/ Care about dental care? Sign up for the Oral Health Coalition at: http://www.chawisconsin.org/wohc.htm
The Vision 2020 Campaign is a collaborative effort of theWisconsin Council on Children & Families, the Wisconsin Community Action Program Association and the Wisconsin Head Start Association. Visit www.2020wi.org for more information and to get involved.