It often is said that children can’t vote so the adults who care about them have to.
As pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgeons, our professional lives have changed dramatically in recent months. We have seen cracks in the health care system — especially health financing — grow into chasms. We have worried over our colleagues and our practices. But most of all, we have worried for our patients.
Public policy is a tool the AAP often uses to affect change. The systemic changes needed to overcome poverty, racism and other social determinants of health require the right policies, laws and leaders.
Voting is one of the main ways we can address health inequities in our communities. So, between now and Nov. 3, please encourage your colleagues, patients/parents and families to vote for leaders and legislation that put kids first.
Here’s just some of what’s at stake.
- COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of COVID-19 on children’s physical and mental health are wide-ranging, especially for those living below and near the poverty line. With hunger rising, classrooms closing and parental stress surging, we must vote for policies and candidates that support access to health care and Medicaid coverage and provide nutrition assistance and resources for schools so children can return safely.
- Racism.A toxic stressor, racism has been linked to disparities in birth outcomes as well as physical and developmental problems throughout the life course. We must elect leaders at all levels of government who will promote policies that reduce disparities and advance social justice, including improving the quality of education in racially segregated communities, devising alternative strategies to incarceration for managing nonviolent youth behavior as well as employing fair housing practices.
- Immigrant child health. Policies like the public charge regulation create barriers to accessing health care, nutrition and housing assistance, and harm the health of immigrants and the communities in which they live. We must elect leaders who support the health and basic rights of immigrant children and families and ensure all who arrive at our border are treated with dignity and respect.
- Climate change and clean air. Children are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change, including lower air and water quality, extreme heat and weather events, food system insecurity, changing patterns of infectious disease and longer, more severe allergy seasons. Under-resourced groups are the hardest hit. We need to vote to slow the pace of global warming and support clean energy and sustainable transportation and food systems.
- Gun violence. Every day, 87 children in the United States are killed or injured by guns. Black and Hispanic children fall victim at much higher rates. We want to cast our ballots for leaders who will protect children, families and communities from gun violence with common-sense steps like strengthening background checks, supporting extreme risk protection orders, encouraging safe firearm storage, banning assault weapons, addressing firearm trafficking and expanding federally funded gun violence prevention research.
- Health care coverage and access. After years of progress, the number of children who have health insurance is declining. We must support leaders who support policies that prioritize affordable, comprehensive health coverage for children and families and keep programs like Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program strong.
This past year has been a powerful reminder that our patients’ health depends not only on what’s happening in our offices and hospitals but also on Capitol Hill and in the halls of government. This is why I vote and use the resources at aap.org/votekids to encourage those around me to learn about the issues and vote as well. A few weeks back, I had the privilege of helping a soon-to-be 18-year-old patient register to vote. I also give everyone in my practice the option of coming in late or leaving early so they can get to the polls.
Voting is not only our responsibility as citizens but our duty as pediatricians. So, please join me in getting out the vote. Our patients’ health and future depend on it.