How Does Health Coverage for Adults Impact Children’s Healthy Development?

As federal and state policymakers debate the merits of affordable health care coverage for adults, it’s important to review the impact that adult coverage has on children’s healthy development. So naturally we were delighted when the Society for Research in Child Development asked us to work with them on a summary of the latest research. The result is a new child evidence brief we hope will reach an even broader audience at a time when health coverage remains front and center in state and federal debates.

Regular Say Ahhh! readers know the facts, but they always bear repeating: Kids win when their parents are healthy. When parents are covered, their children are more likely to be covered themselves and get their own health care needs met—even before birth— which sets them up to thrive in school and as adults.  At the end of the day, positive relationships with healthy adults are fundamental to children’s healthy development, including brain development.

But it’s not just parents. One sentence in the new brief could merit a few paragraphs on its own:

Being uninsured also affects other adults who contribute to children’s development, like grandparents, child care providers, and teachers.

As North Carolina policymakers debate whether or not to expand Medicaid, state advocates have elevated this message by sharing personal stories of child care workers who are in the coverage gap – they make too little to qualify for marketplace coverage and most are ineligible for Medicaid. Last month, early childhood educators from across NC spoke to legislators at the state capital about the need to expand Medicaid, sharing their stories of how being uninsured can interfere with their ability to do their best work. Research bears this out: Consider this new Health Affairs study showing that low-income early childhood teachers have rates of depression that are double those of a similar demographic sample nationally— coverage is a basic step to helping them get the mental health care they need.

Want to learn more on the ways health coverage for parents and caregivers can boost children’s long-term outcomes? Check out the brief on the Society’s web site.  

Elisabeth Wright Burak is a Senior Fellow at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy’s Center for Children and Families.