Updated March 26 at 6:25pm

KIDS COUNT luncheon speakers celebrate progress in children’s health measures

At Rhode Island KIDS COUNT’s 16th annual celebration of children’s health luncheon, leaders lauded the many milestones and top rankings Rhode Island has achieved, while warning of the need for continued diligence, in light of the recent GOP sweep of the White House and both houses of Congress.

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KIDS COUNT luncheon speakers celebrate progress in children’s health measures

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PROVIDENCE – At Rhode Island KIDS COUNT’s 16th annual celebration of children’s health luncheon, leaders lauded the many milestones and top rankings Rhode Island has achieved, while warning of the need for continued diligence, in light of the recent GOP sweep of the White House and both houses of Congress.

That Rhode Island is ranked 15th in the country, with slightly less than 97 percent of the state’s children covered by health insurance, is a testament to so many states doing so well for children right now, said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. “We’re pushing for 100 percent … and have to keep it up [to provide full] access to high quality, comprehensive child-centered health insurance.”

“We can’t abandon the Affordable Care Act; we can make the ACA more effective and more economically effective; it’s wrong to repeal the ACA,” said U.S. Sen. Jack F. Reed, who also spoke about the need for continued funding of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the family home visiting program. “It’s a compelling moral issue and a compelling practical issue; invest in early health care and the payback is huge. It’s the right thing to do and the smart thing to do,” said Reed, one of many speakers who received awards from Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, at the Nov. 14 luncheon at the Providence Marriott Downtown.

Concurring with Reed, State Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, another award recipient, said, “We can’t take for granted these programs; [they make] good sense on moral and policy grounds … Reaching kids at [the] earliest possible stage is one of the most effective uses of resources.” Every dollar invested in the family home visiting program yields a return of between $2.88 and $5.75, said Paiva Weed.

Child health statistics

RIte Care is a top quality performer in all three domains of child health measures: primary care access and preventative care, maternal and perinatal health, and children’s behavioral health, said Burke Bryant.

While the vast majority of children still get health insurance coverage through their parents’ employers, about one-third get it through RIte Care (the state’s Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program managed care program for children) and the balance through a combination of coverage, said Jill Beckwith, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT deputy director. “There are 7,000 kids left to cover [with health insurance]; we’re heading in the right direction.” Beckwith noted several child or adolescent health factors in which Rhode Island leads the nation: The state is ranked best for teen deaths, adolescent cigarette use and childhood immunizations; second best for infant mortality, fourth best for child deaths and fifth best for preventive dental care, among other milestones.

“[Children] can’t be in school if they have [untreated] chronic health conditions. [These top scores] don’t just happen,” said Beckwith. “RIte Care’s health plans [UnitedHealthcare and Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island] were ranked 4.5 out of 5, and were two of only 15 plans in the United States that ranked 4.5 or higher.” The National Committee for Quality Assurance Rankings evaluated and ranked RIte Care and other Medicaid health plans, according to Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.

RIte Smiles

The event, which was attended by more than 200 individuals, including child care advocates and state and local appointed and elected officials, also celebrated the 10th anniversary of RIte Smiles, which provides regular preventative dental care to low-income children. RIte Smiles, which launched in 2006 with 31,000 children, now has nearly 95,800 children enrolled, representing 45 percent of all Rhode Island children under the age of 18. Participation from dental providers has grown, as well: In 2006, when the program launched, 90 dental providers participated; as of 2015, that number has grown to 359, reported Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, citing data from the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services enrollment reports.

Benefits accruing to those in need

“Health care is a contact sport” requiring strategy, precision teamwork and vigilance, said Deb Florio, deputy Medicaid director and CHIP director at EOHHS, who also received a Rhode Island KIDS COUNT award.

“It’s not just access to health insurance, but it’s about accessing health care. We’re at the highest [enrollment] rate we’ve ever seen before, and the program is actually costing less because of initiatives we’re doing. Our members have good quality outcomes,” said Florio. “With the new administration in Washington, D.C., we may be battling to protect the gains we’ve made, but that’s our job.”

Governor Gina M. Raimondo and Susan Orban, director of community health and wellness for South County Health, were among several speakers who received KIDS COUNT awards; and two women described how RIte Care positively transformed the lives of their children, many of whom have diverse and complex medical issues.

“Let’s have a tipping point in Rhode Island: Make children our first priority … children are our greatest resource; and there’s still work to do in this country to make that happen,” said Orban.

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