Let’s insure our kids instead of building a wall

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President Trump wants $5 billion for his border wall — right now — and another $7 billion (or maybe $13 billion) later on to finish the project. What else could we do with that kind of money? Here’s an idea: with $12 billion we could cover ALL 3.9 million American children who are uninsured today, and still have a couple billion left over. Put another way: for every mile of Trump’s wall, we could give health insurance to at least 6,600 kids next year.

Living without health insurance is often devastating for kids, and for their families. Uninsured children often have to skip checkups and life-saving vaccines, and they are more likely to delay or forgo care when they are sick. Uninsured kids miss more school days, and their families often face crushing medical bills. If children without insurance are hospitalized, they are 60 percent more likely to die than hospitalized children with insurance.

Instead of helping kids, the Trump administration is undermining the health of our children. Last year 276,000 children lost coverage, reversing a decade of progress. Furthermore, the President wanted to cut $7 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, along with the food stamps and housing assistance that shield millions of kids from malnutrition and homelessness. Meanwhile, his ill-considered immigration policies pose an immediate threat to the thousands of infants and children seized from their parents, many of whom have yet to be reunited with their families.

The neglect of America’s children shows up in our sorry health statistics. Compared to children in similarly wealthy nations with national health insurance, children born in the U.S. are 76 percent more likely to die before their first birthday, and 55 percent more likely to die between the ages of one and 18. Infant mortality rates in the U.S. are worse than 27 other countries — including Belarus, Slovakia and Cuba. Despite these shameful figures, one in 10 kids in the state of Texas does not have health insurance.

Experts from across the political spectrum have debunked the border wall as a “wasteful,” “harmful” and “ineffective.” In contrast, providing health insurance to our children makes sense on a number of levels. One study showed that the country could save between 8.7 and 10.1 billion dollars a year by providing coverage to eligible uninsured children. Insuring our uninsured children essentially pays for itself. Additionally, the vast majority of Americans, liberal and conservative alike, believe all children should have health care coverage. And as a physician, I know that having insurance as a child reduces your chances of developing a life-long chronic disease. In fact, kids who have health insurance are more likely to succeed in school and become productive members of society.

Rather than bickering over an expensive and futile wall, Congress and the President should set aside their differences and prioritize the health of America’s children. The best way to put “America First” is to put our children first – it’s time we gave all kids in this country health insurance.

Sonali Saluja is an internal medicine physician. This article originally appeared in the Medical Care Blog.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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