Friday, April 20 , 2018, 2:00 pm | Fair 64º

 
 
 

David Sirota: Cutting Children’s Health Care Won’t Cure Deficits

Any short-term savings would be wiped out as less-healthy kids enter adulthood

In the name of curtailing deficits, politicians across the country are hacking away at programs that aim to make children healthier. In Congress, for example, House Republicans are spearheading a budget that eviscerates funding for food assistance and effectively defunds the wildly successful Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Similarly, from Texas to California, state lawmakers are chopping children’s health programs in the face of budget shortfalls. In all these initiatives, the rhetorical leitmotif is “fiscal responsibility.”

Like clockwork, this has set off the now-standard ideological debate over values, with liberals arguing that it’s immoral to deny health care to today’s kids and conservatives countering that it’s even more immoral to saddle the next generation with debt. But as highlighted by a new National Bureau of Economic Research report, both sides are ignoring the most important non-ideological fact: Any so-called “deficit reduction” plan that cuts child health programs is almost certain to increase deficits.

The NBER study compared British and American illness rates, controlling for both demographic differences and risk factors such as smoking and drinking. It found that a) we have “much higher” childhood illness rates than our English counterparts, b) “the transmission rates of higher rates of childhood illnesses into poor health in (adults is) higher in America compared to England” and therefore, c) “the origins of poorer adult health among older Americans compared to the English traces back right into the childhood years.”

In other words, America’s broken private health-care system allows children’s medical afflictions to become far worse in adulthood than they become in England — a nation with a government-sponsored universal health-care system.

Remembering that experts say diabetes alone could be a $3 trillion health-cost time bomb in the United States, the NBER study’s underlying message should be clear: If we reduce our country’s minimal efforts to make kids healthier, we will be all but guaranteeing even more deficit-exploding medical problems down the line.

Those problems, of course, are often more expensive to therapeutically treat in adults than to pre-emptively address in kids. That means any short-term savings achieved by cuts to children’s health care most likely would be wiped out by much bigger costs as those less-healthy kids enter adulthood. And don’t forget — those additional marginal costs are everyone’s concern because they often end up being paid by Medicare (aka taxpayers).

The NBER study is quick to point out that access to children’s health insurance — universal in England, but not in America — may not be the “primary” factor in the discrepancy between our two nations’ health stats. However, it’s possible that health services for pregnant women are acutely involved.

It’s also possible the results reflect not just differences in health services, but also larger incongruities in everything from food safety regulation to consumer products safety laws to environmental protection. This would suggest that it’s not only ignorant for self-described deficit hawks to cut children’s health programs, but also absurd for them to cite deficits as reason to cut enforcement of public-interest laws.

As obvious as these lessons may seem, appreciating their significance requires a serious attitudinal shift in America. It requires us to take the longer view of our deficit challenges, to see certain expenditures as investments in future savings and to remember that adage about “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” Because while we certainly can get the deficit under control, we cannot achieve such a goal by denying kids health care.

Doing that will spite the whole country — and make the budget picture far worse.

David Sirota is the best-selling author of the new book Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now and blogs at OpenLeft.com. Click here for more information. He can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Maestro, Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Debit

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >