Arizona ranks 46th among all states and the District of Columbia on issues that impact the quality of life for children: health, education, economic status, and family/community life. In other words, we’re fifth-worst in the nation.
The rankings, developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, are striking considering the lengths that our Legislature and Governor go to to “protect” fetuses/unborn children.
As many Arizona children prepare to go back to schools with structural damage, outdated textbooks, or are prone to flooding when it rains (like my son’s school in central Scottsdale), a new law is scheduled to take place that supporters say protects unborn babies. The law prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy (some say it’s actually 18), including pregnancies that will likely result in neonatal death due to genetic deformities. Examples include anencephaly (incomplete brains), or undeveloped organs including the heart, lungs, kidneys, etc., that leave a baby incompatible with life.
Kids who are months or years out of the womb don’t warrant as much concern from our Legislature, however, which has slashed Medicaid funding and froze Kids’ Care for almost three years before letting a few more kids get covered.
On the healthcare front, Arizona has actually lowered the number of children without health insurance, but these numbers are still way above the national average. “Only” 13% of our children lack health insurance, down from 16% last year. (The national average of uninsured children is 8%.) Nationally, we rank at 36th in providing healthcare services to children who have already been born.
We’re not doing so well in preventing low birthweight–more than 7% of babies born in the state weigh less than five pounds.
What would help improve these dismal statistics? Well, as much as I know it’s unpopular among many Examiner readers, near-universal health care in the form of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or “Obamacare”) is a good start. The ACA will end this practice of denying insurance or refusing to cover pre-existing conditions (this is already in effect for children). It will also subsidize families earning up to four times the poverty level so that they can buy insurance. As many as one million Arizonans who can’t get health insurance will be able to afford and /or qualify for it under the ACA if it survives.
“Historically, the state has focused on low spending for health and human services and education. So, we started at a place where kids were vulnerable and then added the recession,” says Dana Naimark, President and CEO of the Children’s Action Alliance, told the Arizona Republic. Uninsured kids, Naimark notes, are more likely to develop chronic illnesses–just like uninsured adults.
Healthy parents are also key to healthy children. Despite leading the mostly unsuccessful challenge to the Affordable Care Act, Governor Brewer has allowed the state to participate in the Pre-Existing Condition Plan, an ACA-funded program that insures adults who are deemed uninsurable by the market can join a state-run insurance pool and buy coverage that can run as high as $688 per month.
The state has taken in about $111 million in Obamacare funds to provide services such as a health insurance information exchange, a nurse home visiting program for at-risk families with young children, school-based healthcare centers, and more.
In addition, just under 60,000 young adults in Arizona were able to join their parents’ health insurance plans since Obamacare was passed. The biggest health insurance decision the state now faces is whether to accept the Medicaid expansion funds from the federal government and put up a modest amount of matching funds after three years.
As I’ve said before, it seems that our representatives in Phoenix and in Washington have no problem accepting government-supplied healthcare for themselves. The rest of us, though, don’t get to share this privilege.