In Life and Policy, Asthma is a Year-Round Challenge


Today is World Asthma Day, organized by the Global Initiative for Asthma to increase awareness and improve care across the globe. Asthma is a timely topic in the spring when many children are outdoors playing, and pollens and allergens are in the air. But fighting Asthma is a year-round challenge that requires year-round monitoring. We have been busy this year finding ways to tackle the issue.

Asthma is one of the most prevalent health challenges in District of Columbia, affecting nearly 1 in 5 children. Low-income children are disproportionately impacted– their asthma rates are three times higher and their emergency visit rates are ten times higher than among their more affluent peers.  As families know, successfully managing a child’s asthma to prevent dangerous flare-ups requires a lot of resources – clean safe housing, paid leave policies at work, access to medications, access to primary and specialty preventive care, and other supports. Yet, as we found in our research last year, many of the families who most need these resources are less likely to have them to spare.

Last year we published two reports with our partners at Children’s National Health System and Urban Institute: Making Sense of Childhood Asthma: Lessons for Building a Better System of Care and Helping Low-Income Families Manage Childhood Asthma: Solutions for Healthcare & Beyond. We were also invited to discuss our findings on The Kojo Nnamdi Show. Our reports offered several recommendations for the prevention, management, and acute care of asthma flare-ups, for example: improving air quality in schools and rental properties, increasing school nurse coverage and access, and expanding access to convenient medical care.

Shortly after our reports were released, we were pleased that one of our recommendations was achieved; local Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs) fixed an administrative barrier to prescribing more than one inhaler to a child with asthma. This small fix means that children have better access to their critical medications when they need it, wherever they are.

More work remains, so we continue to collaborate with other stakeholders, including community groups and parents, to reduce asthma triggers and eliminate barriers to care. In January, we presented our research to MCOs and other insurance providers in the Department of Healthcare Finance’s Chronic Care Collaborative. We are also a member of the new DC Asthma Coalition facilitated by Breathe DC. The Coalition’s goals are to improve healthcare access and quality, improve asthma awareness and community involvement in asthma educational programs, establish asthma-friendly environments, and enhance asthma surveillance and evaluation. We serve on the coalition’s policy team.

Our agenda for the year ahead includes working with the Healthy Youth and Schools Commission to collect baseline data on indoor air quality in District schools, a first step toward mitigating indoor triggers; advocating for availability of full-time nurses in all D.C. schools; and making preventive care more available by increasing Medicaid reimbursement for preventive services. Along with our pro bono partners at Mayer Brown, DC Appleseed will continue to pursue practical solutions that help D.C.’s children and families breathe a little easier.

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