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High-cost Kids

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It's not a surprise to me that raising a child with a disability could be more costly than raising a typically developing child, particularly because of the cost of health care.

A researcher recently put a price tag on the burden shouldered by parents annually in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The average extra cost borne by families across the country is $774. Families in Massachusetts have the lowest out-of-pocket costs, at about $560 a year. Families in Georgia, however, have to pay the most -- about $972 a year. The full ranking table is here.

Paul T. Shattuck, a professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis, published these results in the July issue of Pediatrics, and you can see the abstract here. The results were based on a nationwide survey of households of children with special health needs conducted in 2000 and 2001.

As the rankings show, almost everyone is paying something extra for their kids. But richer states tended to require less out-of-pocket health care expenses of their residents. About 86 percent of Michigan families reported paying extra for health care for their child, compared to 94 percent of Mississippi families.

Shattuck says his results suggest that Medicaid and the state children's health insurance programs (SCHIP) need to be revisited so that more money can go to families who have disabled children.

It's a fascinating report, and as families and educators know, medical care is only the tip of the iceberg (though probably the easiest to measure.) This study doesn't even get into such costs as tutoring, special enrichment activities, "soft costs" like time taken off work to attend school conferences or doctors appointments...all of those things are part of the price of raising a child with a disability as well.

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Interesting that you used the word "burden". I have 4 daughters, one whom has Down syndrome. While she doesn't have any medical costs that are different from her sisters, I don't think we would consider any cost that was expended on her as a burden. There is no price tag on what she teaches us each day. She gives far more than she takes.

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