Investing in our future: it’s more cost efective to provide health care coverage for our nation’s children because they will grow into healthier, more productive citizens.

RICE (US)—Extending health insurance coverage to all children in the United States would be relatively inexpensive considering the potential economic gains, according to a new report by Rice University researchers.

“Providing health insurance to all children in America will yield substantial economic benefits,” writes Vivian Ho, chair in health economics at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and associate professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. She coauthored the report with Marah Short, senior staff researcher in health economics at the Baker Institute.

If children receive better care and enjoy better health, the researchers say, their productivity as adults will improve, so the cost of providing universal coverage is offset “by the increased value of additional life years and improved health-related quality of life gained from improved health care. From a societal perspective, universal coverage for children appears to be cost-saving.”

Ho and Short compared the children’s health care in the United States to the care provided in other industrialized countries and found that despite higher per capita spending, the United States ranks third-highest among 30 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries in the percentage of the population lacking health insurance, with one in seven people uninsured. The number of uninsured children is estimated to be more than 8 million, the researchers say.

The literature clearly indicates that lack of coverage leads to “lower access to medical care and lower use of health care services,” the authors write and may even be reflected in relatively high child morbidity rates in the United States. Moreover, lack of health care for children has long-term effects as those children become adults.

“The collective body of research that we have reviewed,” Ho and Short say, “provides compelling evidence that covering all children in the United States with health insurance will yield immediate improvements in the health of children, as well as long-term returns of greater health and productivity in adulthood. The upfront incremental costs of universal health insurance coverage for children are relatively modest, and they will be offset by the value of increased health capital gained in the long term.”

Rice University news: