American Kids Aren’t Getting The Preventative Health Care They Need

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

In this Feb. 23, 2012 photo, family nurse practitioner Terrance James, left, examines Kamiyan Cooper, 1, as his mother Kesha Wilson holds him at the Multnomah County's Mid County Health Center, in Portland, Ore.

A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report found that many parents have not been taking the preventative measures needed to ensure healthy life outcomes for their children.

The assessment, which will appear in Friday’s issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, examined families’ use of preventative care services before 2012, before most major provisions of Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act, went into effect.

CDC researchers’ findings show that eight out of 10 parents have not been asked by their doctor to fill out formal questionnaires to detect developmental delays. More than half of U.S. children and teens also haven’t visited a dentist within the last year and 20 percent of children haven’t had a vision screening before the age of five. Researchers also found that nearly half of U.S. girls didn’t receive the recommended HPV vaccination, known to prevent cervical cancer.

“We must protect the health of all children and ensure that they receive recommended screenings and services,” Dr. Stuart Shapira, associate director for science in CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in a CDC news release. “Increased use of clinical preventive services could improve the health of infants, children and teens and promote healthy lifestyles that will enable them to achieve their full potential,” Saad said.

As another school year gets underway, many medical professionals stress that part of helping children achieve their full potential involves making sure they receive their vaccinations on time. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services touts proper vaccination as a means of preventing the resurgence of preventable diseases, such as measles and whooping cough. Health officials often ascribe a failure to vaccinate to an increase in school absences and future medical costs.

But many parents don’t agree. An increasing number of mothers and fathers have opted out of vaccinating their children by way of a “philosophical objection” loophole in state vaccination rules. Many children returned to school without vaccinations this year after their parents signed a form stating their opposition.

“It is common sense to me that it should not be easier to file for an exemption than it is to get your kid vaccinated,” Saad Omer, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta, told HealthDay in 2012. That year, Saad conducted a study that highlighted the increase of children opting out of vaccinations. “The more relaxed these requirements are, as we and others have shown, the easier it is to get an exemption, the higher the rates of exemptions,” said Saad.

While the CDC assessment as a whole presented what some consider groundbreaking information, it zeroed in on an issue of great significance — disparities in use of preventative services among ethnic minorities and the uninsured. Researchers found that uninsured children visited their primary care physicians less often than their insured counterparts. They also reported that Latinos used vision services significantly less than other ethnic groups.

This recent information comes on the heels of previous research that made connections between the lack of insurance and dire health outcomes for low-income Americans. A 2012 Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation report found that the uninsured often miss opportunities to diagnose serious health conditions early. According to the report, those without insurance also stand the most likely to have their health decline upon discovery of a chronic disease, due to a lack of follow-up care. The uninsured also report postponing care and medication at rates higher than that of their counterparts who have Medicaid and other forms of insurance.

Since the rollout of Obamacare at the beginning of the year, more than 100 million Americans have received preventative health care, emergency care, health screenings, and counseling, free of charge. Even so, knowledge among parents remains key in increasing the use of preventative services, especially among the previously uninsured.

“The Affordable Care Act requires new health insurance plans to provide certain clinical preventive services at no additional cost — with no copays or deductibles,” said Lorraine Yeung, M.D., M.P.H., medical epidemiologist with CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, in a CDC news release. “Parents need to know that many clinical preventive services for their children, such as screening and vaccination, are available for free with many health plans.”