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How Many Kids Have Died Because Their Parents Can't Afford Health Care?

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When talk show host Jimmy Kimmel shared a deeply emotional monologue about his son on Late Night With Jimmy Kimmel, his speech resonated with millions of Americans. His son William was born with a heart condition that required open-heart surgery, and Kimmel tearfully spoke not only of his own son, but of the children out there who might have needed the same health care and could not have afforded it. The children who could have died needlessly, for purely financial reasons. How many kids have died because their parents couldn't afford health care, so many of us wondered after Kimmel's speech, and what would the Trump administration's new health care bill mean for the future of children with pre-existing conditions?

Before the Obama-era Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, statistics for children dying due to lack of health care looked terribly grim. According to a 2009 study conducted by the John Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore, as many as 17,000 children may have died unnecessarily over the course of two decades. Children who lacked health insurance were 60 percent more likely to die in the hospital, and study co-author David Chang told Health News at the time that he "could not think of a medical treatment that has such a dramatic impact on health outcomes as health insurance seemingly does":

This is actually something we as a society ... can choose to do something about. It's literally with the stroke of somebody's pen, this could be changed.

Since Obamacare was enacted, the situation has improved dramatically. In 2015 the CDC reported that fewer than 5 percent of children under the age of 18 were left without access to health care or health insurance, and the number one cause of death as of 2014 among children was accidental.

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Those promising statistics could be in jeopardy if House Republicans move forward with a new version of the American Health Care Act this week. While the first version was considered so disastrous that it never even made it to a vote, this new version has included an important amendment meant to appease the ultra conservative House Freedom Caucus, who would not support the original bill. The MacArthur Amendment, authored by GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur from New Jersey, includes a waiver system that would enable states to potentially "opt out" of Obamacare federal regulations against charging people with pre-existing conditions more for health care. Those pre-existing conditions would include congenital heart defects in babies, as Kimmel pointed out in his speech.

We were brought up to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, but until a few years ago, millions and millions of us had no access to health insurance at all. Before 2014, if you were born with congenital heart disease like my son was, there was a good chance you’d never be able to get health insurance because you had a pre-existing condition. You were born with a pre-existing condition. And if your parents didn’t have medical insurance, you might not live long enough to even get denied because of a pre-existing condition.
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Kimmel went on to note that no "decent person" wants to see a child die:

If your baby is going to die, and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make. I think that’s something that, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right?

The thought that a child might die, not because help wasn't available, but simply because it wasn't unaffordable, is too much to bear. It cannot happen again.