The buzz from last weekend’s AAP meeting in Washington, D.C.

palfrey_judith_dsc7551Judy Palfrey, MD, FAAP, has been a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston since 1974. She is a general pediatrician and child advocate. She was chief of Children’s General Pediatrics Division from 1986 to 2008 and currently directs the Children’s International Pediatric Center.

Dr. Palfrey is the new president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which is the nation’s largest pediatric organization, with a membership of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists.

Here, she writes on the important issues discussed at last weekend’s annual AAP meeting, and she’ll be writing for Thrive regularly about issues important to health care providers, parents and children.

Over the last few days, 12,000 pediatricians gathered in Washington, D.C., for the American Academy of Pediatrics’ annual meeting. There was quite a buzz of activity around the current events that are having an effect on health care providers, children and families. Let me share a few highlights with you.

The AAP has been actively engaged in the health reform debate all year, and given its current state of increased activity, it’s not surprising that a number of the sessions and activities at the meeting focused on what we can expect from health reform in the weeks and months ahead. The process is at a particularly crucial juncture now that the Senate Finance Committee has passed its health reform bill, which is one of five that must be melded together before there will be a final product put before the president.

While the bills that have been passed in the House and Senate to date differ in their components related to children’s health, the AAP is cautiously optimistic that the final bill will have a number of substantial benefits for children. These include:

  • Near universal access to health insurance for children, adolescents and young adults
  • Pediatric-specific benefits in a medical home
  • A strong emphasis on prevention and quality
  • No pre-existing condition exclusions
  • Fairer payment to physicians who provide care to children on Medicaid

There is concern, however, that over the next two months as the bills are integrated into final health reform legislation, there will be all sorts of horse-trading. If we are not extremely vigilant, the good provisions for children currently included in some of the bills may be traded away in order to keep the costs of the legislation in the required range.

In the weeks and months ahead, it is extremely important that those of us who care about children’s health keep in touch with our congressmen and senators to encourage them not to let children’s health needs become a casualty of legislative compromise. We had a wonderful victory earlier this year with the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) legislation that is bringing us closer and closer to universal access, but CHIPRA is a block grant that is due expire, or sunset, in just three years. If we are not standing up now for full inclusion of children in health reform, the victory of February 2009 may go down in history as a Pyrrhic one. We can’t let that happen.

More in-depth information from the AAP on the chatter of health reform is also available on the AAP Web site and in an article recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Another topic that received a lot of attention at the AAP meeting was H1N1. Doctors around the country are being inundated with H1N1 cases—they have lines out the door and are turning doctors’ lounges into hospital wards just to manage the number of H1N1 cases coming in. The H1N1 vaccine has become available, but with spotty distribution and uneven supply. We were fortunate to have Dr. Howard Koh, the assistant secretary for Health, as one of the keynote speakers of our annual meeting. He assured us that the vaccine supply is being ramped up and will be available in an increasingly steady stream over the coming weeks and months. Read more about the resources the AAP has available regarding H1N1.

There were also a number of sessions and activities devoted to Global Health, with nearly 800 attendees of the meeting coming from countries outside of the United States. The AAP is beginning a major new initiative in conjunction with the World Health Organization called Helping Babies Breathe. This program is an expansion of the AAP’s highly successful Neonatal Resuscitation Program, adapted for use in low-resource settings to be used by traditional birth attendants who are present at the high number of births that still occur at home in many developing countries (sometimes as high as 80 percent).

Overall, the AAP’s annual meeting provided a snapshot of the many pressing political and clinical issues of the moment that are impacting children and their families. There is a lot going on all over the country and the AAP is working hard to provide useful, up-to-date information to child health clinicians around the United States.

What issues related to pediatric health care are on your mind?

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