Elizabeth Burke Bryant is the Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, a nonprofit advocacy organization for children and their families. On Nov. 4, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT held its 13th Annual Celebration of Children’s Health, a luncheon that drew more than 175 people to mark the progress that has made in improving health care for Rhode Island’s children.
PBN: How would you describe the state of children’s health in Rhode Island?
BRYANT:The state of children’s health in Rhode Island is quite positive; our state ranks highly on important indicators for infants, young children, and adolescents. In Rhode Island, slightly under two-thirds of children continued to be covered by their parents’ employer-sponsored insurance and just under a third are covered by RIte Care. Children covered by RIte Care share similar good health status to those with private coverage, which means that most children are getting the access they need to medical, dental, mental, and behavioral health care. Healthy children learn better and have better outcomes as children and later in life.
PBN: Does Rhode Island compare favorably or less favorably with other states when it comes to leading health indicators for children? Where are we falling short?
BRYANT: Despite recent economic challenges that Rhode Islanders have faced due to the recession, we continue to rank among the top states for low rates of preterm births, teen births, child deaths, teen deaths, teen obesity, and high rates of children’s health coverage, immunizations, and dental care. Recent data on infant mortality are cause for concern – we need to monitor the trends to see if they continue and to reach out to providers to see what can be done to turn back recent increases in this area.
PBN: What do you see as the single biggest health challenge Rhode Island children face?
BRYANT:Although progress has been made on many health indicators across racial and ethnic populations, disparities still exist for a number of maternal and infant health outcomes in Rhode Island. For example, minority women are more likely than White women to receive delayed or no prenatal care and to have preterm births. Minority children are more likely to die in infancy than White children. We must prioritize reducing health disparities if we want to continue to improve our outcomes in the future and give all children the best possible start in life.
PBN: What have been some of the recent successes and improvements in health care for children in Rhode Island?
BRYANT: We’ve seen improvements in several areas. Rhode Island’s teen birth rate has dropped by 50 percent over the past two decades. We’ve dramatically reduced the percentage of children who have been lead poisoned over the past decade and half, though our work is not done until we reach our goal of having no children with elevated blood lead levels. We’ve also recently turned the tide on preterm births, which greatly benefits those infants, their families, and the overall health care system. We’ve also increased the number of low-income children with access to preventive dental care, which reduces the high cost of emergency treatment later. We’ve also been promoting first dental visits by a child’s first birthday in order to connect all children to a regular dentist, like they have a regular pediatrician.
PBN: How does the new federal health care affect children’s health care in Rhode Island?
BRYANT: We’ve been a consistent leader in making sure that children have health coverage. We must use all of the elements of the Affordable Care Act that we can to make sure that we finish the job and cover all kids. Between employer-sponsored health insurance coverage, RIte Care, and new health coverage options that are now available through HealthSource RI, we must find a way to make sure that all children in Rhode Island have coverage that’s affordable, a regular doctor, and the preventive care they need to thrive. We also need to make sure that the 7,000 parents who will lose RIte Care coverage starting in January are connected with affordable coverage through HealthSource RI, because research tells us that children are healthier when their parents are insured.