Their first steps. Their first illness. Their first day of school. From the moment our children take their first breath, there's nothing that occupies the minds of parents more than their children's health. That's especially true for the parents of the millions of children who have to skip critical checkups and vaccines each year because of expensive co-pays or go without basic health care coverage, in some cases, because insurance companies refused to cover them.
But thanks in large part to the new health insurance reform law that President Obama signed in March, we're making progress helping these families. Today, as we mark the sixth-month anniversary of the Affordable Care Act and several of its most important new benefits for children begin to take effect, the future for our children's health care is brighter than it's been in a long time.
The new benefits that begin rolling out today will give parents more control over their children's health care. In nearly all health insurance plans, children with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma or diabetes can no longer be denied coverage. And insurance companies can no longer set the lifetime dollar limits on children's benefits, which often led to sick children losing their insurance right when they needed it the most.
As new plans come on the market, children will have access, at no additional cost to parents, to what are called Bright Futures services, the definitive standard of pediatric preventive care visits and treatments recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. As a result, more children will get regular well-baby and well-child exams, developmental screenings, immunizations and other needed care.
While today's reforms will help many children with private insurance, positive changes are also in store for children eligible for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. We got one piece of heartening news from recent Census data, which showed that even as we continue to climb out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the number of children with health insurance has held steady, mostly thanks to the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, which President Obama signed in February 2009.
But there is still work to be done. About 5 million children today are eligible for Medicaid and CHIP but are not enrolled. That's 5 million children who are just a small step away from having critical health benefits. Working together with government officials, business partners, community leaders and health care professionals, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Department of Health and Human Services has launched a campaign to find these children and sign them up for health insurance. We call it the Connecting Kids to Coverage Challenge. And we encourage all parents to visit www.healthcare.gov to learn more and to see whether your children qualify for these critical programs.
For too long, too many American children have gone without the treatments, medicines and checkups they need, whether it's the boy with asthma who couldn't get insurance and ends up in an intensive care unit, or the young girl with diabetes who misses checkups and needs weeks to get her sugars readjusted, or the kids who fall behind on their vaccines and screenings and suffer devastating illnesses that could have been prevented.
A wise investment
Today, we're taking some long overdue steps to fill these gaps in care. And in the coming months, we'll continue to work with partners across the country to make sure families have the information they need to take advantage of these benefits as they become available.
When we invest in our children's health care today, we're also investing in the healthy and productive adults of tomorrow. At a time when much of our attention as a nation is understandably focused on the challenges we face, it's worth pausing to celebrate the progress we've made toward improving our children's health, and with it, our country's future.
Kathleen Sebelius is secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Judith S. Palfrey is president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Originally published in USA Today