Congress Must Continue to Make Children a Priority

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Like all American parents and grandparents, my children and grandchildren are the center of my life. Their health and safety are my husband's and my prime concern. As a pediatrician, I see first-hand how important health care and parenting support is for children and families. We have so many wonderful resources to share with our children, but these days we need to strengthen our resolve and ensure that they receive all they deserve.

The United States is the richest nation in the world, but we are failing in delivering necessary health services for our children. In fact, the statistics are shocking. The United Nations Children's Fund recently ranked the United States dead last among 21 developed countries in health and safety for children. This is clearly unacceptable.

Right now, we have an enormous opportunity to make some important course corrections for children and families. Congress is on the brink of history, having passed one chamber's bill with one more to go. The United States is closer than we've ever been to health reform. I am excited about this prospect, but maintain some caution until the final bill is passed.

Children's needs must be a priority as we approach the next debates in Congress. Not only is it our moral obligation as adults to speak up for children, who cannot speak up for themselves, but it is our civic duty. As the literal future of this country, children have the most to gain from health reform but the least power to make it happen.

Right now, debates fill the airwaves about what type of public option to include, who to tax and how much, which public programs to expand, and what it means for the already-insured. While these issues are critical, we don't hear many people asking the most important question of all: "What about our children?" While health reform is needed for all Americans, we must pay particular attention to the most vulnerable. We cannot afford to maintain the status quo and we certainly don't want our children worse off as a result of health reform.

What children need is a comprehensive, affordable and accessible health care system. The best place to start reforming it is by promoting the medical home. As the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, I am proud that our organization pioneered the concept of the medical home in the 1960s as a way to make sure all children and young adults have comprehensive, family-centered, culturally appropriate health care. In pediatrics, medical homes bring primary care, specialty services, emergency services and hospitals together in a coordinated, cost effective manner. In this way, children and youth are at the center of a system focused on their needs and their well-being.

Children and adolescents who have access to care in the medical home are more likely to have regular check-ups, be screened and treated early for preventable diseases, and grow into a healthy adults. Children with special health care needs also receive improved services with fewer delays, more comprehensive and continuous care as well as fewer hospitalizations.

Now that the House has passed its legislation, it is the Senate's turn to act for children. The House's health reform bill is not perfect, but it goes a long way toward real reform by providing funding for a five-year pilot medical home demonstration program under Medicaid. The Senate bill funds a "care coordination" model, working as a team with a primary care physician, which comes close to the medical home model discussed within the Academy since the 1960s. The Senate bill also emphasizes preventive services, which are key to keeping children healthy and cutting down on many adult chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and cancer.

Investment in these fundamental primary care services will net significant returns, in both quality of life and cost of care. Congress' investment in children's health is the best way to bend the cost curve, and I am confident that in the coming days, Congress will continue to do right by the next generation and pass strong health reform legislation with consideration for children and youth.