Ohio can do more to combat childhood health problems
Posted on 09/09/15 by Amelia Hayes
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t suffer from asthma. I would run and play with other kids during recess for about 10 minutes and then immediately need an inhaler or breathing treatment. Living with asthma is hard and scary. The number of children in Cleveland who suffer with it is alarming.
Asthma is one of many diseases where our high poverty rates make our kids more vulnerable. The child poverty rate in Cleveland is 54 percent, second only to Detroit at 59 percent. Children living in poverty are more likely to have health issues such as asthma, diabetes and complications from lead poisoning. In 2012, an estimated 14,500 Cleveland children lived with asthma, according to Environmental Health Watch. The number nationally is 6.8 million.
Smart efforts around the country are combating childhood health issues. Ohio’s expansion of Medicaid, along with existence of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, ensure that children with asthma can get treated. Ohio’s Help Me Grow program provides home-based early intervention services.
But Ohio could be doing much more to prevent the debilitating disease. Many states better fund home visitations to assess health risks in low-income households.
In California, Massachusetts and Alabama, the state Medicaid programs pay for these home visits. Making these visits to focus on prevention efforts will in the long run be cheaper for Medicaid, which pays most of these children’s medical bills. Home visits help determine environmental factors such as mold, allergens and nutrition that can contribute to an illness or disease. Prevention measures reduce hefty medical bills down the road.
University Hospitals is implementing a similar program for children with asthma, according to The Plain Dealer. The hospital refers most kids who are low-income and living with asthma to Environmental Health Watch, which conducts home inspections. The program is cost effective, producing a net savings of $5,000 per patient a year.
Ohio’s home visit program, Help Me Grow, is underfunded but does an excellent job of helping families identify health problems of all kinds. Unlike the programs in California, Massachusettes and Alabama, it doesn’t particularly focus on asthma identification and prevention, although concerned parents can ask about breathing issues. But Ohio could use the framework established under Help Me Grow to provide home visits to more children under the age of 5, and could build asthma screening and treatment into the sessions.
Other programs that ease the burden of poverty would also help. The EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) helps Cleveland children by providing their parents with a little extra income. But Ohio’s EITC does not function as well as it could, because it does not allow families to receive a credit larger than what they owe in state income tax. A refundable EITC, which many states have, would put more money in the pockets of low-income families.
Weatherization would also help many struggling families. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, roughly 1.4 million Ohio homes are considered cost burdened. The families living in these homes spend roughly 30 percent of their annual income on housing and utilities. Weatherization lowers energy bills by 20 percent. But in 2012, just 5,741 homes were weatherized out of the 460,000 that need it in Ohio. Investment in home weatherization for low-income families has fallen off since Ohio froze clean-energy standards last year. Homes that are not weatherized have higher energy bills, which takes money that could be used for healthy foods and healthy home maintenance.
The EITC, weatherization and home visits can all improve the lives of Cleveland and Ohio children living with asthma and other health ailments. Ohio could be a leader in reducing childhood health problems related to poverty.
For a more in-depth look at how poverty affects health, check out a Cleveland Plain Dealer series on children living in poverty. The series has great information and personal stories.