Health of Children in Red States Suffers

Children living in red states -- those in which a majority of the citizens voted Republican in the 2004 presidential election -- may be worse off in terms of health than those living in states that voted Democrat, according to a new book.

The book, "Homeland Insecurity … American Children at Risk," suggests kids in red states are more likely to lack health insurance, live in poverty and die early.

Michael Petit, president of the Every Child Matters Education Fund and author of the book, said politics is largely to blame for the discrepancy. And he adds that political decisions made at the state level have the most impact.

"Where it plays out for individual children and families is in the states -- nowhere more than in so-called red states where children are at significantly greater risk than children in blue states," said Petit in a press conference Wednesday.

Petit used U.S. census data and other government sources to compare states that voted Republican in the 2004 presidential election to those that voted Democratic. To rank the states, he used a set of 11 child-related statistics, several of which were measures of health, such as insurance coverage and prenatal care.

According to his findings, nine of the 10 top states with the best outcomes for children today were blue states. The top 10 states, in order, were Wisconsin, New Jersey, Washington, Minnesota, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa (the sole red state in the group) and New Hampshire.

All 10 of the bottom-rated states were red states -- Wyoming, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana and Mississippi.

According to Petit's research, a child in the bottom 10 states is twice as likely to die by the age of 14 than a child in the top 10 states.

Children in the bottom 10 states were also 1.8 times more likely to be uninsured than their top 10 counterparts, and expectant mothers were more than twice as likely to receive inadequate prenatal care.

The data show that "children fare much better today if they happen to live in some states instead of others," said Dr. Joel Alpert, past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, during Wednesday's press conference.

"Children who live in blue states do better. Children who live in red states do worse. It's there in the data," he said. "The data are convincing, and they are alarming."

Health policy experts said the findings establish a likely link between a state's politics and its efforts to safeguard children's health.

"The primary programs we have to insure kids -- namely Medicaid -- are basically federally funded state programs," said Timothy Jost, professor of health care law at the Washington and Lee University School of Law.

Jost said that individual states have a lot of sway when it comes to the health coverage that children receive.

"States that tend to be politically and economically conservative have less inclusive medical assistance programs," he said.

"So, it would make a great deal of sense that states that are Republican have conservative social and economic policies that lead to a decreased health status for poor children."

More Than Just Voting Trends

Jost said other factors that affect children's health, such as poverty, nutrition and housing status, could also play a role in the discrepancy.

And, according to Petit, a state's racial demographic can also play a role in child health.

"[Red states] tend to have a higher concentration of minorities," he said.

But Jost said the underlying causes of many of these factors could also be traced to differences in prevailing political ideologies between Republican and Democrat states.

"More liberal states probably have better food stamp, public assistance, housing and education programs," Jost said, adding that these factors tend to improve children's health.

And Petit believes the discrepancies between red and blue states are too significant to ignore.

"When … all 10 of the bottom states are red, all 20 of the bottom states are red, and 24 of the 25 bottom states are red, there's clearly some convergence going on there," he said.

"If you take a look at the self taxation rate … the top states are blue, the bottom states are red," said Petit. "Those tax burdens really are a function of political decision being made in the states."

Improvement Needed Across the Board

But whether the states are red or blue, the situation is far from the pink of health for many American children, Alpert said. "We should not forget that red and blue put together make a nation, and our nation's performance is the worst in the industrialized world.

"A view that looks at only the majority fails to take into account the more than 9 million children who did without health insurance for a full year in 2005, another 9 million who go without health insurance for about half the year, and millions more who are underinsured."

The solution, say Alpert and Jost, lies with federal lawmakers.

"I see the challenge as occurring at the federal level, because ultimately that's where that is going to have to be addressed," Alpert said.

"The solution is to get people insured," Jost said. "That is not going to happen through the private sector; the government is going to have to step in.

"It is a political problem, and it needs to be solved politically."

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