RITZ: Health care issues follow children into the classroom

July 15, 2017

Health care in America touches nearly every facet of our lives. Even a child’s learning is closely linked to the health and well-being of the child and members of his or her family. Health care discussions dominate our conversations nationwide because it affects everyone.

The stress of affording health care for family members follows children into our school classrooms. Children hear the harsh discussions of affording health care and see when members of their family make choices to not get medical treatment as needed because of costs, even if the family has medical insurance. Or perhaps the child is the one in need of expensive medical treatment, putting a financial strain on the family.

Educators are anxious about the health care debate, not just for their own families, but for the children they teach. Hearing Congress make recommendations to cut the Medicaid program brings great anxiety to educators. According to the Indiana Youth Institute, Medicaid is the sole health insurance provider for 31.4 percent of our Hoosier children up to age 17. Healthy children are better learners, and we can’t afford to put our learners at risk.

Health care costs have risen faster than the annual income. Over the last several years, employers are finding it difficult to maintain a high level of health care benefits for their employees with the continually rising costs. Alarmingly, families in middle/upper middle class families are now discovering their salaries are not keeping pace with the rise of medical costs.

Having access to affordable health care in the United States should be a right of every person. Currently, our country addresses our nation’s health care needs through a combination of government public policy and private health providers and insurance. Since 1960, the health care debate has been focused on slowing the rising cost of health care, with no long-term, effective measures put in place to accomplish the goal of making health care affordable.

The simple economic principle of supply and demand applies to the rising health care costs. The demand for health care (including prescriptions) is high, so private health care providers continue to raise their prices, causing the insurance industry to raise its premiums and the federal expenses of Medicare and Medicaid to increase. In addition, there has been a significant increase in chronic illnesses, like diabetes and heart disease, due to unhealthy lifestyles.

Congress should abandon the politics of this long debate and figure out long-term strategies to implement over time to decrease demand for expensive hospital care, increase demand for preventive care, and promote programs that curb the unhealthy habits of Americans. These efforts will take the committed participation of many state and federal agencies and health activist groups.

During my term as superintendent of public instruction, I had the pleasure to serve on the Jump In coalition in central Indiana to encourage schools and families to do their part in promoting and providing children with healthy activities and food selections. Sadly, this group has had little impact on the Legislature to move toward a healthier Indiana.

People want affordable health care. Congress needs to stop arguing about who is going to pay for health care, because there really can be no cost shifting; we all know who pays for health care—the American people. We will continue to pay for our health care through state and federal taxes, insurance and our paychecks. We want Congress to address the actual cost of providing health care so more people can actually afford the health care for which we are already paying.•


Ritz, a Democrat, is a former state superintendent of public instruction. Send comments toibjedit@ibj.com.


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