Skip to main content

As we mark the six-month anniversary of the passage of health reform, families have much to celebrate today as several key provisions of the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act go into effect for children.  While there are a wide array of opinions on both sides of the aisle on the new law – from those that say health reform goes too far to those who lament that it doesn’t go far enough, the impact for children cannot be disputed. Children and families will be better off today and for many years to come because of long list of new child-focused policies that were included as part of national health reform.

The victories are too voluminous to name all of them (who really wants to read a 20 page blog) but I can’t let this day pass without calling attention to some of the most meaningful wins for kids:

No longer will families be denied coverage for their child because they have a pre-existing condition.  Parents of children with cancer, children born with a birth defect, children with asthma, special-needs kids, among others, will be able to get coverage for their kids because of health reform.  We know that insurance companies will still try to game the system and that until the new Health Insurance Exchanges are up and running in 2014 affordability may be a real problem for families, but ending this pernicious practice of denying coverage is a major step forward.

Insurers also will no longer be permitted to set lifetime caps on coverage or benefits so if a child beats leukemia when they are 8 they will still be able to get the care they need if they face another serious illness later in life.  Thank goodness.

No longer will children with terminal illnesses be forced to forgo curative treatment in order to receive the palliative care and support that is offered through Hospice.  This is required for adults who seek Hospice care at the end of their lives but what parent or for that matter what doctor would ever agree to stop seeking a cure for a sick child even when their prognosis is bleak?

While not immediately effective, because of health reform insurers will be required to provide vision care services so children who need glasses can get them.  (Teachers everywhere must be applauding!)   Dental care also will be a required benefit for all children.  Never again will a child lose a permanent tooth because it costs less to pull it than to fix a cavity.  Most importantly, never again will lack of coverage cause a child to die from an infected tooth that could have been addressed for about $100.

Health reform also builds on the existing public safety net that works well for kids, improving Medicaid and extending the life of the successful Children’s Health Insurance Program through 2015. While the families who rely on these programs don’t take them for granted, most Americans, I would guess, don’t know that Medicaid and CHIP are the source of coverage for more than one-third of all American children. And, more than 40 percent of all births in the U.S. are covered not by private insurance but by Medicaid.

The evidence is clear that having health coverage is essential for a child to grow up healthy and strong and these programs ensure that low-income families can get their kids the high quality, affordable, comprehensive care they need when they need it.

On coverage, the best news of all is that there’s no need for families to wait to enroll.  Medicaid and CHIP are up and running and available for low-income children right now.  Sadly, nearly two-thirds of uninsured kids are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but they don’t know about the programs or face other barriers that prevent them from signing up.

As policymakers across the states and in Washington work out the details on health reform and iron out its many complexities, for children and families the benefits of health reform are significant. We know there is still much work ahead of us to be sure that these victories for kids are felt for every family member in America, but on this day, when many key provisions of health reform become effective for kids, I urge every mom and every family to join with those of us who fought so hard to move the dial on children’s healthcare to relish in this moment.  The lives and health of our children will indeed be changed for the better.  So, let’s celebrate this giant step forward and pledge to do all we can -- as parents, as advocates, as organizations that fight for children – to make sure that families, teachers, school nurses , and other community partners, know that if their child is uninsured, coverage is available.

As I write this I find it hard to imagine that any of these laws were even necessary.  They seem to be so commonsense.  Low-income families should learn about the availability of coverage when they apply for other federal means-tested programs like the free and reduced lunch program, WIC, or Food Stamps.  And, restricting coverage and benefits and other foul insurance practices should never have been permitted for any American, never mind a child.  Maybe that’s why some families are taking health reform for granted – because they already have coverage and they haven’t been unfairly turned away when their child was sick.

The good news is that because of the Affordable Care Act, these sorts of problems will be a vestige of the past, a sad chapter in our nation’s history when we allowed special interests to ration care for kids, indeed for everyone in America.  Today, we turn the page and begin a new chapter.  There is more work to be done but finally we are on the right path.  Let us mark this day as a victory for our children and celebrate.  Lives will be changed for the better because of the Affordable Care Act.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of strongly encourages our readers to post comments in response to blog posts. We value diversity of opinions and perspectives. Our goals for this space are to be educational, thought-provoking, and respectful. So we actively moderate comments and we reserve the right to edit or remove comments that undermine these goals. Thanks!