CLEVELAND — The sad reality for a growing number of children in Ohio is that they are navigating through their first few years of life facing uncertainty and possibly unnecessary illness.
The Buckeye State now ranks third in the nation for the number of children between newborn to 6 years old that don't have access to health insurance.
In Cuyahoga County, there's an estimated 2,300 uninsured babies, toddlers and preschoolers.
Dr. Deborah Friedman, a pediatrician at The Centers in Cleveland, said she has "definitely worked in situations where people were turned away."
Friedman reacted to new findings by Georgetown University that show a 40% spike in the number of uninsured babies, toddlers and preschoolers in Ohio.
"That's a sad statistic for Ohio. It makes you feel a little bit helpless,” said Friedman.
Nearly 42,000 children ages newborn to six facing uncertain futures.
"During that time, children are growing and developing very quickly," said Friedman.
Those changes are both physical and emotional.
"Especially in the first 2,000 days, as we call it, before a child enters kindergarten, 90% of their brain is formed," said Carole Beaty from The Centers.
As for why we're seeing this trend?
"The big piece is educating families," said Beaty.
Beaty said parents without access to insurance are often confused.
"The Marketplace, as we know — navigating that can be confusing, which is why we want them to get that support to help walk them through," said Beaty.
The Centers has mobilized a dedicated team to get children insured.
"We know families care about their child having preventative care, but just may not know where to turn to help. Part of it is getting that message out to see what families do qualify for,” said Beaty.
Many of those parents may be working, but either their employer doesn't offer insurance or it's too expensive.
"They may also make just a little bit more than what's needed to qualify for Medicaid. We definitely can do something about it,” said Beaty.
Without regular access to healthcare during those crucial years, there's growing concern some children are falling through the cracks.
"There are a lot of vaccines and they're exceedingly expensive to get, so health insurance and coverage is really important at that time to get the vaccinations they need for a healthy future," said Friedman.
These recent findings got the attention of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.
This week, he issued a directive to the state's Medicaid office to look into ways to make it easier for families to get insured.
This trend is deeply disturbing for child advocates because of the rapid brain development during these earliest years of life.
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