Two black boys died in the span of a week in 2007 because their mothers didn’t have health insurance.
Deamonte Driver, 12, died of a toothache because his mother couldn’t afford to pay $80 to have a tooth extracted; the tooth abscessed and bacteria spread to his brain. After two surgeries and six weeks in the hospital, Deamonte was gone.
Devante Johnson, 14, died of kidney cancer after he spent four months uninsured while his mother tried to renew is Medicaid coverage. She filed application after application and appealed to a state representative. After the coverage was restored and he received first-rate care, Devante lost his battle with cancer.
There is no reason why this should happen in a country as rich as ours.
In an address to journalists gathered at the Morehouse School of Medicine last month, Marian Wright Edelman urged that America needs to take care of all children, not just the children we like or the ones who look like us or those who have problems, but all of them.
“Stop denying children what they need,” she said at the National Association of Black Journalists Conference on Health Disparities.
President Barack Obama signed the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP bill, Wednesday. It authorizes an additional $32.8 billion over the next 4½ years for children’s health insurance, Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, is pushing for more comprehensive coverage for all children.
The new law guarantees heath insurance for 4 million children, but will leave another 5 to 6 million uninsured and millions more underinsured because eligibility and coverage varies from state to state.
It’s not enough that a black man now resides in the White House. It will take "a strategic and organized movement" to finish the job of the civil rights movement, she said.
What Edelman didn’t say is that as more and more Americans find themselves without jobs, in an entrenched recession that deepens almost daily, more and more children may find themselves without health coverage. COBRA is an expensive option, and I, for one, don’t want to imagine what would happen if one day I didn’t have health coverage for my little girls.
Health care, though, isn’t the only concern.
Children are arrested daily for infractions that used to be handled at school. Churches could put foster care agencies out of business if they would adopt children within five blocks of their buildings. In fact, all of us could do a better job of stepping up and filling in the gaps.
“When I grew up, everybody owned us,” Edelman said. “We were community property.”
That approach worked for so many children who now sit in leadership positions. Still, it’s not enough. Edelman said more people need to study education rather than law. Those who don’t love children should get out of the business of educating them, and parents should call school boards on the carpet when they don’t educate 80 percent of the children in their systems.
Edelman has been advocating on behalf of children since 1973, and the job has not gotten any easier in that time. Deamonte and Devante are all the proof we need.
Monique Fields is a writer living in Alabama.