The persistence of child poverty in the United States and the pervasive health consequences it engenders present unique challenges to the health care system. Human capital theory and empirical observation suggest that the increased disease burden experienced by poor children originates from social conditions that provide suboptimal educational, nutritional, environmental, and parental inputs to good health. Faced with the resultant excess rates of pediatric morbidity, the US health care system has developed a variety of compensatory strategies. In the first instance, Medicaid, the federal-state governmental finance system designed to assure health insurance coverage for poor children, has increased its eligibility thresholds and expanded its benefits to allow greater access to health services for this vulnerable population. A second arm of response involves a gradual reengineering of health care delivery at the practice level, including the dissemination of patient-centered medical homes, the use of team-based approaches to care, and the expansion of care management beyond the practice to reach deep into the community. Third is a series of recent experiments involving the federal government and state Medicaid programs that includes payment reforms of various kinds, enhanced reporting, concentration on high-risk populations, and intensive case management. Fourth, pediatric practices have begun to make use of specific tools that permit the identification and referral of children facing social stresses arising from poverty. Finally, constituencies within the health care system participate in enhanced advocacy efforts to raise awareness of poverty as a distinct threat to child health and to press for public policy responses such as minimum wage increases, expansion of tax credits, paid family leave, universal preschool education, and other priorities focused on child poverty.
- health care systems
- health economics
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health