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While our culture revers mothers as the heart and soul of a family, our public policies often ignore the importance of a mother’s health in shaping her family’s future.

In the last 15 years, our country has made amazing strides in reducing the number of children who do not have health coverage.   Today, only 7% of kids are uninsured, a 47% decline in just 10 years since the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was enacted in 1997.  This investment in health coverage is not only the right thing to do, it paves the way for our children to learn and grow healthfully.

Now, it’s time to repeat this success by covering the millions of parents currently uninsured.   This is particularly an urgent need for mothers of color, who are less likely to have health insurance than their Caucasian counterparts.  In 2010, there were 11.5 million uninsured parents in our country, of which 47% were Caucasian, 29.4% Hispanic and 17% African American.  That’s a lot of people, praying, hoping that nothing happens to them, using the emergency room as a primary care physician or ignoring illnesses that could spiral into more serious conditions.

The downside to parents’ being uninsured is obvious.  A mother who has no access to healthcare faces poorer health outcomes than the general public, which in turn has an impact on her family’s finances – and her children’s well-being. Not seeing a doctor or receiving treatment for an illness could mean compromising a mother’s ability to work and support and care for her family. For example, untreated maternal depression can have an impact on a mother’s ability to provide for her family and also her child’s ability to learn as well as later physical and mental health, according to the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.  Untreated chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes – conditions higher among communities of color with high rates of uninsured - can create a similar downward economic security spiral for families.

Under the Affordable Care Act, we have an amazing opportunity to expand up to 4.9 million parents currently uninsured.   The Affordable Care Act gives states the opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage to millions of low and moderate-income families with full support from the federal government for the first three years.  This opportunity is so attractive to states that a number of Republican governors, including those from  Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Florida, support this expansion of coverage.   A number of Governors and state legislatures are still deciding whether to take advantage of this opportunity.

Right now, it’s up to us to take action. We have to make the case to state legislatures and let people in our own communities know that they qualify for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.  In New Mexico, for example, we are seeing local advocates get together and identify ways to reach out to dispersed and diverse populations in a culturally-relevant way.  These strategies and many more will be the key to reaching parents so that they can be there for their children for today and many more.

It won’t be easy, but our country can’t afford not to take action to cover more mothers and work to close the gap in health equity we now face.

Ashley Boyd is a Senior Campaign Director with MomsRising’s healthcare campaign.  MomsRising.org, is a multi-cultural online and on-the-ground grassroots organization of more 
than a million people who are working to achieve family economic security and to reduce child health disparities in the United States.

 

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