Political pundits divide the nation into red and blue states based on voting patterns in presidential and congressional elections. How would the map look if researchers took a similar approach to the quality of children’s health care?
This is what WalletHub did in its 2017 Best States for Children’s Health Care study.
“The leading states for children’s health seem to be located in New England and in the Midwest,” Bert A. Rockman, professor emeritus of political science at Purdue University, told WalletHub. “Vermont and Iowa typically come up at the top. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Michigan are pretty close behind. These data come from a study a few years back.
“You will note that aside from Michigan, most of these states are very predominantly white, especially Vermont, Iowa and New Hampshire. So wellbeing is tied to race and social equality. I believe Iowa also has the highest literacy rate in the country.”
WalletHub researchers ranked all 50 states and the District of Columbia using 28 relevant metrics in three general areas:
Children’s health and access to health care;
Children’s nutrition, physical activity and obesity; and
Children’s oral health.
Each metric was evaluated on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 representing the best health care for children. States and the district then were ranked from one to 51 based on composite scores. (The complete study methodology and criteria are available here.)
No. 1: Vermont
Many Americans associate the Green Mountain State with Sen. Bernie Sanders, who recently introduced a bill for single-payer health care in the United States, and Howard Dean, a physician who ran for president in 2004.
Now the state has the distinction of being the best in the nation for children’s health care. Vermont ranks No. 1 in the categories of health and access to health care, and nutrition, physical activity and obesity; and fifth in oral health for an overall score of 72.15.
In 1989, the state launched Dr. Dynasaur, a program that provides free or low-cost health coverage for children under age 19. Other innovative iniatives include the Vermont Child Health Improvement Program, Blue Print for Health and Children’s Integrated Services.
No. 2: Massachusetts
The Bay State has made a strong commitment to children’s health, and it shows in the rankings. Massachusetts earned a cumulative score of 64.13 and is ranked second in health and access to health care; seventh in oral health; and 18th in nutrition, physical activity and obesity.
The Boston area is home to some of the nation’s leading hospitals. Earlier this year, U.S. News & World Report ranked Boston Children’s Hospital in the top three in the nation for neonatology; pediatric cancer; pediatric cardiology and heart surgery; pediatric diabetes and endocrinology; pediatric gastroenterology and GI surgery; and pediatric neurology and neurosurgery.
No. 3: Connecticut
Another New England state, Connecticut, compiled an overall score of 61.71. Its highest category ranking is No. 5 in nutrition, physical activity and obesity. It comes in sixth in health and access to health care and 27th in oral health.
Part of the credit may be attributed to the Children’s Fun of Connecticut, a public foundation “dedicated to ensuring that children in Connecticut have a strong start in life with ongoing supports to promote their optimal health and well-being.” This fund was founded 20 years ago.
No. 4: Iowa
The Hawkeye State earns the highest marks outside of New England, led by the No. 1 ranking for oral health. The state is fifth for health and access to health care and 20th for nutrition, physical activity and obesity. Its total score is 61.68.
Iowa demonstrates its commitment to the oral health of children through the “hawk-i” program, which provides free cleanings, checkups, fluoride treatments, sealants, fillings, crowns and medically necessary orthodontia to low-income children.
No. 5: New Hampshire
New England jumps right back into the top five, thanks to a strong performance by New Hampshire. The Granite State actually ties with Iowa with a cumulative score of 61.68. It scores highest – No. 3 – for health and access to health care. It also ranks 10th for oral health and 24th for nutrition, physical health and obesity.
No- or low-cost health coverage is available to eligible children through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
No. 6: Hawaii
Ocean breezes and year-round sunshine must be good for children’s health, because the Aloha State comes in sixth with an overall score of 59.68. The state is No. 4 in the nation for health and access to health care and 15th in nutrition, physical activity and obesity. However, its 49th ranking for oral health likely keeps it from scoring higher.
Low-income options include Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
No. 7: Rhode Island
Yet another New England state, Rhode Island, earns a combined score of 58.80. Despite being the smallest state in the nation, it scores big in oral health (No. 4), health and access to health care (No. 9) and nutrition, physical activity and obesity (No. 21).
Only 6 percent of children in the state are uninsured, according to a 2016 report form the Kids Count imitative.
No. 8: Delaware
Delaware is the only mid-Atlantic state to crack the top 10. Its strongest area is health and access to health care, where it ranks eighth. It also is 15th in oral health and 30th in nutrition, physical activity and obesity for a total score of 58.34.
The Delaware Healthy Children program is a low-cost health insurance option for the uninsured. Services include everything from routine checkups to hospital services.
No. 9: District of Columbia
The nation’s capital does a good job of taking care of children, with a combined score of 58.00. This includes a rank of seventh in health and access to health care; 23rd in oral health; and 38th in nutrition, physical activity and obesity.
The Children’s National Health System, which is the leading pediatric health system in the area, is ranked No 1 in the nation for neonatology and among the top 10 for cancer; neurology and neurosurgery; orthopedics; and nephrology.
No. 10: Minnesota
Another Midwest state, Minnesota, rounds out the top 10, edging out New Jersey with a cumulative score of 57.93. The state is 10th in health and access to health care; 17th in oral health; and 23rd in nutrition, physical activity and obesity.
Minnesota offers no- or low-cost coverage though both Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.