Children's Health: Is Living in a Red State Risky?
Living in a state that voted for George W. Bush in 2004 can be hazardous to a child's health. That's the conclusion of Michael Petit, head of the Every Child Matters Education Fund, which just released a report tying politics to health. "In red states, children are at significantly more risk" than in blue states, or those that voted Democratic that year, says Petit, who published his findings yesterday on the foundation's website. The report garnered plaudits from child advocates, but some health policy analysts described it as simplistic.
Using federal health statistics, Petit ranked all 50 states by their rates of death before the teen years, lack of adequate prenatal care, low birth weight, lack of insurance, and seven other measures. He combined all measures into an overall child health ranking. "A child in the bottom 10 states is twice as likely to die by age 14 as are children in the top 10," Petit says. All 10 bottom states voted Republican in 2004, with Mississippi on the very lowest rung. Blue states, in contrast, take nine of the top 10 slots, peaking with New Hampshire. Iowa was the only red state to crack the top 10.
Why the connection? Petit thinks he has the answer. "In red states, children have been hit hardest by an antitax, antigovernment ideology," he says. And that ideology translates into less money available to spend on child health. For example, Rhode Island, a blue state, spends $160 per capita on child welfare programs, tops in the nation. Mississippi spends $20.
Petit admits that his bottom reds are also states with higher numbers of minorities in their populations. That could be a factor, since minorities traditionally have had less access to healthcare. "We know that minorities generally do not fare as well as white children," he says. Nonetheless, he insists that the clustering of Republican states at the bottom "is a trend we cannot ignore."
Overall state wealth, too, rather than what happened in voting booths in 2004, could partly explain Petit's results, points out Nina Owcharenko, senior healthcare policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. And Petit's proposed solutionpumping $500 billion in federal funds into health and education programs, such as universal health insuranceisn't the answer to the problem, she adds. "We do have a patchwork today, and kids are slipping through the cracks. But the idea that public programs run through the government will solve this is shortsighted," she says. In Canada, which has government-run insurance, the waiting time to see a physician has climbed to 17 weeks, she notes. "The solutions are not more government, but more power for the individual." If parents were given more resources to buy their own insurance, for example, and saw lower premiums for adhering to well-baby-care standards, they would have an incentive to get their children to doctors for the appropriate exams and vaccinations, she says. Then children's health would be neither red or blue, but in the pink.