N.C. kids lag in health coverage

Even before the economy tanked this year, the number of uninsured children in North Carolina was rising by the thousands, ranking the state No. 6 in the nation for the number of children who lack health insurance coverage.

And most of the children – nearly 300,000 – lived with parents who held jobs.

The findings, released last week by the advocacy group Families USA and using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, raise troubling issues about how and when children see doctors, said Dr. David Tayloe Jr., a pediatrician from Goldsboro and president of American Academy of Pediatrics.

“We've seen children with appendicitis and brain tumors wait for care because they didn't have insurance,” Tayloe said. When that happens, he said, children suffer needlessly from diseases that can often be easily treated if they're caught early. In addition, the cost of care skyrockets.

Many parents are unaware that their children are eligible for coverage. Nearly two-thirds of the children who don't have insurance in North Carolina could qualify for coverage under Medicaid or the state's child health insurance program, which goes by the name N.C. Health Choice. Medicaid is the federal government's insurance for the poor; Health Choice, funded with federal and state tax dollars, is available to low-income families who make more money than Medicaid allows.

Penella Washington, chief executive officer of Wake Health Services Inc., said she recently talked with a mother of three who arrived at the agency's community health clinic seeking vaccinations for her daughter, who was entering public schools.

“In the course of the visit, we realized the baby, the toddler and the other child were all eligible for Medicaid, and the mother had no idea that all of her children could be brought up to date on shots and physicals.”