Eva Longoria Parker, “Children of color need a healthy start, USA Today,” September 04, 2009


Today in Washington and across this country, adults are debating the hotly contested issue of health care reform. But children, especially those of color, are innocent bystanders with much to gain — or lose.
Most people know me from my fictional life on ABC's Desperate Housewives. But in real life, I learned that access to health care could mean the difference between living with security or fear. I grew up with a sister who has mental disabilities, and I remember my family being worried about her health. Doctors told my mother that Elizabeth would not live past the age of 2, but because of the early medical attention she received, my sister is now 41 and living a healthy life. We were among the lucky ones.
According to the Children's Defense Fund, 9 million U.S. children lack health coverage; and two-thirds of those are children of color. So even as minority children can look to the White House and the Supreme Court and see the ceiling on their aspirations has been lifted, the floor beneath them — in terms of basic medical care — is decayed and full of holes.
Today, I spend much of my time off the set with non-profits that serve children who are fighting cancer or who have developmental disabilities. I've seen a common thread: Too often, the greatest predictor of children's well-being is the color of their skin. Consider:
Uninsured children are 10 times as likely as insured children to have unmet medical needs, such as untreated asthma, diabetes or obesity.
• They are more likely to miss school because of illness, increasing the unconscionably wide achievement gap and trapping them in a cycle of poverty.
• Hispanic and black pregnant women, who are less likely to be insured, have a higher risk of complications.
For those concerned about costs, reforming children's health care is cheaper than the alternative: not insuring all children and pregnant women. The cost of prenatal care and vaccinations now is dwarfed by the expense of treating chronic conditions later.
The nation is transfixed with this rancorous health care debate. But what about the notion that we must provide all children with affordable, comprehensive and accessible coverage? Wherever they live. Whatever the color of their skin. I grew up with the belief that America is the land of equality. It's time for our actions to meet our rhetoric: that all children, regardless of skin color or economic status, deserve a chance to succeed. That chance begins with a healthy childhood.
Eva Longoria Parker is the national spokeswoman for PADRES Contra el Cancer and founder of Eva's Heroes.