Iowa and Vermont provide children with the best health care, according to a report released today by an independent health care research foundation, while Oklahoma and Florida rank the worst when it comes to caring for kids.
The assessment, released by the Commonweath Fund, a private foundation focused on health care issues, ranked the 50 states and the District of Columbia to see how they fared on several counts, including health care access, quality, cost, equity and the potential for kids to lead long, healthy lives.
Researchers also took a close look at rates of insurance coverage, vaccinations and preventive visits to doctors, among other factors, concluding that there is a high correlation between a child's access to care and the quality of care that child receives.
"Iowa and Vermont have come out at the top of the scale on our measures," said Dr. Edward Schor, vice president of child development and preventive care at the Commonwealth Fund. "Both of these states have adopted policies to expand children's access to health care and improve their quality of care."
On the other hand, several bottom-ranked states had high numbers of uninsured children, and it was in those states that children were less likely to get recommended health care such as vaccines, dental care and regular checkups, according to the Commonwealth Fund president Karen Davis.
Researchers also concluded that there is enormous potential to make kids healthier. If faltering states performed as well as the strongest states did, the researchers said, an additional 4.6 million children across the country would have health insurance.
The changes would also result in as many as 800,000 more children being up to date on their vaccines and 11.8 million more children getting their recommended medical and dental checkups each year, according to the report.
"Investing in children is truly an investment in the future," Schor said. "It takes leadership at the state level as well as at the federal level."
Iowa did not rank first in any one health care category, but it still took the top spot for overall children's care.
According to Dr. Michael Artman, executive director and physician in chief at the University of Iowa's Children's Hospital, that's due in large measure to learning how to localize care for kids.
"Sometimes health care delivery in a rural state like Iowa is a little difficult," Artman said. "I think Iowa was very perceptive in recognizing that and working to develop systems so at least the screening systems and well-children care and identifying kids at risk -- all of that can be done in the local communities."
Several New England states followed top-ranking Iowa in providing children with the best overall care. Rounding out the top five were Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
The regional cluster in the Northeast demonstrated that states where children were insured at high levels also came out on top in several other categories.
For instance, in Massachusetts, the state that ranked first for access to care, 75 percent of children had at least one medical and one dental visit in the past year compared with 46 percent of children who visited doctors and dentists in Idaho. Also in Massachusetts, 94 percent of young children were up to date on their immunizations, compared with 67 percent who were up to date in Nevada.