Covid Causes Vast Drop in Critical Early Child Care for Poor

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The Covid-19 pandemic is harming the long-term health of low-income children, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said Wednesday.

Vaccination rates, primary preventive care, and screenings among children in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program have plummeted during the pandemic, the CMS said.

Between March and May, vaccinations for children under age 2 were down 22% compared to the same time period last year. Child screening services that are crucial for early detection of conditions like autism were down 44% over last year. Dental services were down 69%.

There is a lag between when services are provided and when the CMS receives the data, but those three-month figures are significant enough to warrant alarm. “The precipitous decline in services remains a cause for concern,” the CMS said.

“The absence of these vital health care services may have lifelong consequences for these vulnerable children, and I call on states, pediatric providers, families, and schools to ensure children catch-up on overdue medical, behavioral health and dental appointments as well as childhood immunizations,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

Critics of the Trump administration’s handling of the Medicaid program questioned why the agency issued no similar calls to action over recently released data showing an increase in the number of children without health insurance.

“Under their watch, 726,000 children have lost their health insurance, and years of national progress have been reversed,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University.

System of Care

State and local health officials will need to create a “system of care” for children to catch them up with their vaccinations and ensure they receive needed screenings, Verma said during a press call. Parents also need reassurance about the safety of bringing children in for health care services, she said.

The schools also have a vital role to play in making sure kids get screenings and vaccinations, she added. But it’s crucial that schools that are reopening have a plan in place to address foregone medical care, Verma said.

Medicaid and CHIP cover nearly 40 million children, including three quarters of kids living in poverty and those with special health-care needs.

Vaccination rates for school age children in the U.S. are generally over 90%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children who don’t have private insurance that covers vaccinations can usually receive them at no charge under the federal Vaccines for Children Program, which inoculates around 50% of all U.S. children under 18.

The decline in vaccinations shows up across all population groups, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Demand for vaccinations has plummeted as much as 95% for some vaccinations, the foundation said.

The Commonwealth Fund found that overall pediatric visits remained 25% below normal in late July, an improvement over the 60% drop in the first weeks of the pandemic.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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