Our children need health care

The most valuable resource for New Mexico is not our green chile, though our governor has previously signed legislation protecting the integrity of our world-renowned Capsicum annuum. As a pediatrician working in Albuquerque, I can enthusiastically report that the most promising resource for our future are the children of New Mexico – every child.

The diversity, resiliency and natural beauty of our state’s children are incredible. State investments that put our children on the path for success have paid off. In recent years, however, those investments have come under fire.

Over the last eight years, children’s, teens’, and parents’ access to basic health care has greatly improved. We’ve seen significant increases in the percentage of children insured, which has helped decrease the rates of child/teen deaths, teen substance abuse and teen pregnancy in New Mexico and many other states. Currently, more than 60 percent of New Mexico’s infants, toddlers and preschoolers receive health care through Medicaid during the years that are key to their healthy development and school readiness. Being a kids’ doc, I know that access to basic health care, especially in the early years of life, is correlated with academic success, and ultimately earning higher wages and paying more in taxes as an adult.

So, since we are willing to invest significant resources in protecting our unbeatable chiles, shouldn’t we be even more concerned about protecting the health of our children and families – our future, the core of our society? Despite the undeniable gains over the past several years, there are ongoing legislative and executive efforts to, in effect, undermine access to basic health care for children. For example, Medicaid has been significantly underfunded over the past couple of years. Clearly, any funds “saved” by decreasing children’s access to health care are short-lived at best. Decreasing funding and access will lead to less preventive care and more costly hospitalizations for issues such as asthma attacks, infections and child-abuse-related injuries. Overall, children, especially those living in poverty, will miss more days of school and not perform as well academically if their access to care is decreased. Substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and gang/criminal activity could also very likely increase accordingly – along with the costs to mitigate them.

It is my duty to advocate for the health of all children – to be a voice for the innocent, those able to feel, see and hear but unable to speak eloquently, donate money to campaigns or vote. I am relieved that all three of our U.S. representatives did not support the recently proposed American Health Care Act, which would have ended the federal government’s commitment to Medicaid as we know it. But Medicaid continues to come under threat at both the state and national levels.

It is imperative that we continue to increase access to health care for children. It is crucial to our society that our local, state and national leaders keep the needs of the children at the forefront when considering changes to our health care system. I urge them to make the investments necessary to securing our children’s future by improving their health. This is not just about our children’s future. When it comes to our state’s most precious resource, their future is everyone’s future. And sure, chiles and kids can both make us cry at times; but unlike a pepper, only a child can say, “Thank you for giving me a brighter future!”

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