Give kids healthy start to school year

The days are getting shorter and summer activities are winding down. School supply lists are appearing in stores and your in-boxes. Kids (hopefully) are finishing their summer reading lists. Back to School time is just around the corner, though it may feel like Memorial Day was just a couple of weeks ago.

As you prepare your kids to return to school this year, you should be aware that some states have enacted tougher immunization laws in the wake of the recurrence of “childhood diseases” that were previously eliminated in this country.

Recommended vaccines are among the free preventive health services offered by qualified health plans, Medicaid, and CHIP, as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Other preventive health services for children include: hearing and other screening tests for newborns; behavioral assessments; developmental screening for children under age 3; oral health risk assessment for young children; depression screening for adolescents; alcohol and drug use assessments for adolescents; obesity screening and counseling; and vision screening for all children. Adults and women also have access to preventive health services.

Not currently enrolled in health insurance? You can enroll in Medicaid and CHIP at any time. You may be able to enroll in a qualified health plan through the federal marketplace or your state exchange if you have a Qualifying Life Event such as a change in your family composition; loss of health insurance; moving into an area where your previous plan doesn’t provide coverage; gaining status in a federally recognized tribe; certain income changes; change in immigration status; or are a victim of domestic abuse or spousal abandonment. These events trigger a 60-day special enrollment period during which you can enroll. If you haven’t had a qualifying life event and are not eligible for Medicaid, then you may enroll during the next open enrollment period, which begins on Nov. 1, and ends on Jan. 31. Go to HealthCare.gov for information on enrollment.

We hope people will use their new health coverage and we’re offering assistance. From Coverage to Care (C2C) explains how to use coverage, including choosing a doctor, where to go for care, how to read your insurance card and your explanation of benefits, suggestions for the first appointment, and other critical information. C2C resources are available in eight languages plus a tribal version.

The “Healthy Self” initiative, which encourages people to take control of their health and their health care, is a current focus. Eating healthy foods, getting plenty of exercise and sleep, taking care of mental health, getting preventive tests, and knowing risk factors are all ways consumers can help take control of their health. Commonsense suggestions include: if you smoke, try to cut down or stop; limit your alcohol intake; and if you’re prescribed narcotics or opioids, use them for the shortest time possible.

Creating a healthier America will take all of us working together. If you’re a parent, you manage your kids’ health. Your health care provider is an adviser, but you’re the one who oversees their daily life.

Make sure your children start each day and the school year with the healthiest start possible: Take them for their yearly exams, make sure they get their immunizations, help move them away from the screens and get them outside and active, and offer healthy balanced meals which can include traditional foods. If you are concerned about your child’s or your own mental health, contact your provider. Take care of yourself so your kids will see how to live as a healthy adult. We’re encouraging everyone to post a #HealthySelfie on social media. It could include you and your family actively enjoying the outdoors, sharing a healthy family meal, or visiting the doctor.

Back to School time is a busy time, but make sure the doctor’s visit is on the top of your checklist.

Knowing your kids are healthy and protected from “childhood diseases” will help you sleep better at night and move you and your family toward your own “Healthy Self” goals.

Susan Johnson is director of Region 10 for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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