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U-M poll: Pain at the pump could hurt kids’ health


C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health finds most parents would apply for gas card programs to get kids to health care visits

ANN ARBOR, MI – Your wallet may not be the only thing affected by the country’s high gas prices. The pain at the pump is also placing added strain on children’s health, according to researchers with the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

A new report by the National Poll on Children’s Health indicates that higher gas prices this year are putting the squeeze on how parents are managing health care for their children – either in getting to health care visits or purchasing medications. In fact, the report being released today finds 6 percent of parents have postponed a medical visit or buying medication for their children as the result of high gas prices.

Concerned that this phenomenon will only get worse as gas prices continue to rise, experts at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital propose initiating a gas card program explicitly for the purpose of transportation for children’s health care. And based on results from the National Poll on Children’s Health’s report, the majority of U.S. adults are in favor of such a program.

“We found that nearly two-thirds of parents polled said they would apply for a gas card program if one were available,” says Matthew M. Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., director of the National Poll on Children’s Health. “A gas-card-for-health program would support families’ efforts to safeguard their children’s health, and also allow corporations, such as the oil and gas companies, to give back to our communities.”

Currently, however, no such gas card program exists. That’s why C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is contacting oil and gas companies to see if there’s potential for a partnership to help fund a program. Chris J. Dickinson, M.D., associate chief of staff in the Office of Clinical Affairs at the U-M Health System, has been working with national organizations and advocacy groups to help to push this effort forward.

“As clinicians, we’re all very concerned about patients making it to clinic visits and getting their prescriptions filled,” says Dickinson, professor, Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases at the U-M Medical School. “We care for many children with chronic conditions at Mott, as do many children’s hospitals across the country. If they can’t get their medications, we know the outcomes for those kids will not be nearly as good as if they can get their medications and clinic visits in a timely fashion.”

Gas prices as a national average first reached $3 per gallon in 2005. Since then, Americans have had to pay more than $3 per gallon for four weeks in 2006, and eight weeks already in 2007. This trend has led to a great deal of concern among health care providers that families may not be going to health care visits or filling prescriptions as the result of high prices at the pump. In particular, Dickinson notes, several U-M nurses have noticed that families who once made regular clinic visits were no longer keeping those appointments. When asked, many families said that high gas prices had prevented them from coming in to see their health care provider.

Health Minute ImageTo get to their children’s health care appointments, most parents (57 percent) travel 10 miles or less. Twenty-nine percent, however, travel 11 to 20 miles, and 12 percent travel more than 20 miles. Some parents need to travel great distances for their children to receive care at children’s hospitals, and children who receive care at these hospitals are those who need care the most, Davis says.

To learn more about how higher gas prices have affected families’ ability to get health care and medications – and to gauge support for a possible gas card program – the National Poll on Children’s Health, in collaboration with Knowledge Networks Inc., conducted a national online survey in July and August.

The survey was administered to a random sample of 2,060 adults, ages 18 and older, who are a part of Knowledge Network’s online KnowledgePanelSM. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect U.S. population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. About two-thirds of the sample were parents.

“We found that nationally, 6 percent of parents reported that because of higher gas prices, they had either postponed a medical visit or postponed buying medications for their children. This was a much more common problem among families of lower income and families who have to travel longer distances to get their kids to health care appointments,” says Davis, associate professor of general pediatrics and internal medicine at the U-M Medical School, and associate professor of public policy at the U-M Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

To ease the pain at the pump, more than half of adults polled said a gas card program for patients should be implemented to help families get to their children’s health care visits. Davis notes that this idea was more strongly supported by women, lower-income adults, and adults with chronic diseases. Even among adults who did not have children in their households, more than half supported such a program.

Among parents, 64 percent reported they would apply for a gas card program to help pay for transportation to health care visits. And, 90 percent of parents who postponed medical visits or getting medications for their children because of high gas prices said they would apply for gas cards.

Most notably, more than half of adults polled would like to see gas and oil companies give back to their communities by providing gas cards to help transport children to health care visits, and another 50 percent favored government sponsorship of a gas card program.

“At the national level, these poll findings indicate that more than 4 million children have had a medical visit or medications postponed because of high gas prices,” says Davis. “For these reasons, a voucher program dedicated to helping families get children to health care visits is appealing to the majority of Americans, even those adults without children in their homes.”

Report highlights

* Six percent of parents report that they have postponed a medical visit or medications for their children in 2007 because of high gas prices.
* Nearly two-thirds of U.S. parents would apply to a program that would provide gas cards to help get to their children’s health care visits.
* Adults think that gas/oil companies and the government should fund a gas card program.


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