North Carolina continues to get mixed grades for children’s health issues – Winston-Salem Journal
Overall health conditions for North Carolina children continue to be a mixed bag, according to an annual report timed for release today by the nonprofit groups N.C. Child and N.C. Institute of Medicine.
The 21st annual report measures 22 socioeconomic subsets within the four main categories of access to care, healthy births, safe homes and neighborhoods, and health risk factors.
As has been typical, the majority of the subsets were given a “C” grade.
The state topped out with an “A” grade for the number of children covered — at least for now — by health insurance at 95.6 percent. The rate was at 91.9 percent in 2009.
By comparison, the number of uninsured parents was at 15.3 percent in 2016.
The uninsured rate has dropped by half since 2009, in large part to 1.2 million children being covered by the state version of the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), 55,000 children covered in households gaining insurance on the federal exchange marketplace, and through Medicaid.
Meanwhile, the lowest grade was an “F” for economic security as it relates to children living in poverty.
Nearly 53 percent of North Carolina’s children under age 5 live in poor or near-poor homes, which can lead to poorer health outcomes, lower educational attainment and reduced economic opportunities, the groups said.
Of the state’s 2.3 million children — defined as under age 18 — nearly one in seven live in high-poverty neighborhoods, up 56 percent from 2010.
“Two-thirds of child deaths occur within the first year of life,” according to the report.
“High-quality health insurance improves access to care and economic security for families, both of which support health and well-being,” Adam Zolotor, president and chief executive of the institute, said in a statement. “Children with health insurance are more likely to access preventive care and receive needed services.”
The groups said as many as 160,000 N.C. children could lose insurance coverage with the current U.S. House Republican repeal proposal.
“As such, the future of children’s health insurance coverage is closely tied to proposed changes to these policies and programs in Congress, which could eliminate or reverse coverage gains.
The report noted continued improvements related to lower teen births (down by one-third since 2011), fewer mothers who smoke during their pregnancy, higher vaccination rates, higher postpartum checkups, and higher rates of breastfeeding.
However, the authors said the report still “reveals many areas of profound concern where the state has made little or no progress.”
The groups said the state continues to struggle to establish a proper student-to-nurse/counselor ratio in public schools, as well as improvements in birth outcomes, the number of children lacking exercise, considered overweight, using tobacco and behavioral health. Those categories received D’s.
For example, the ratio of students to school nurse is 1 to 1,112 statewide. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a ratio of 1 to 750 “well students.
Dr. Julie Linton, a pediatrician at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said part of her job is to screen families for such issues as food and shelter security, as well as issues of access to health care and medications.
“In order to grow, develop, and become healthy, productive adults, children must have their basic needs met,” Linton said. “Lack of adequate healthy food can not only threaten health but can also impair a child’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school and is linked to higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems from preschool through adolescence.”