Want To Save Babies’ Lives? Give Them Health Insurance Now

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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Probably the toughest moment in my life as a mom was when my husband lost his job – the one he’d had for ten years. The one that paid our bills, and gave us health insurance. We had a 5-year-old at the time, and I was newly pregnant with our second child. One of the first thoughts that entered my mind was, “How on earth are we going to get health insurance, and what will happen if we can’t afford it?”

I didn’t know how long it would take my husband to get a new job. I knew that I obviously couldn’t birth my baby without the care of a medical professional—not to mention the fact that our 5-year-old most definitely would need to visit the pediatrician at some point. My mommy instincts were on overdrive, and you can bet that until we got the whole health insurance things squared away, I was a nervous wreck.

When we found out we would qualify for Medicaid, I was so relieved. Medicaid not only had good benefits, but there were no monthly premiums or co-payments. Once we qualified (which did end up being a ridiculously endless process with a ton of bureaucratic red tape), every aspect of my pregnancy and birth were covered. I could rest easily, and be ensured that my baby and I were safe.

You can say what you want about the Affordable Care Act or public health insurance programs like Medicaid. No program like that is perfect. But any effort to ensure that people in need have access to basic medical coverage is not something to be taken lightly. You never, ever know when tough times will befall a family. You never know someone’s story, or how they got to be where they are.

And unless you are a total asshole, you have to concede that all people – and most definitely any baby or child – deserves to have access to doctors and medicine. Health insurance is not a choice; it’s a necessity.

And the fact of the matter is, health insurance saves lives. Literally. Everyone should have adequate healthcare, regardless of their economic status.

In case you were not convinced of this fact, take this April 2018 report from the American Journal of Public Health, which looked at the sobering fact that babies who have health insurance are less likely to die at birth than babies who do not.

Basically, the researchers looked at data on infant mortality between 2010 to 2016 and then 2014 to 2016. They were specifically comparing different states in the U.S. that had or had not decided to expand their Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The expansion was optional for states; 31 states signed on, while 19 states did not.

The expansion allowed more low-income folks to get Medicaid for their families. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, families who were below 138 percent of the poverty line – $28,180 for a three-person family – became eligible under this program.

What did they find when they looked at infant mortality? Well, the good news was that, overall, infant mortality had dropped in the U.S. during the time the researchers were studying.

But when they looked at states that accepted the Medicaid expansion versus states that did not, it was a different picture. In states that didn’t accept the Medicaid expansion, infant mortality actually rose: from 6.4 to 6.5 for every 1,000 live births. But in states that accepted the expansion? You guessed it: the rate dropped from 5.9 to 5.6.

In other words, Medicaid saves these babies lives. Or, to put it another way: babies who do not have health insurance are more likely to die at birth. It sounds harsh and is not something fun to talk about, but it’s the truth, and we need to talk about it.

It’s important to note here, too, that African-American babies – who have disproportionally high infant mortality rates to begin with – were most profoundly affected by the Medicaid expansion. As the report points out, African-American babies had an overall 12.3% decline in infant mortality between 2010-2015. But in the places that expanded Medicaid, infant mortality among African-Americans dropped even more, by 14.5%.

My goodness: just give all babies health insurance. This should be a no-brainer. I honestly don’t know why anyone with a mind and a heart would question this.

And why does health insurance protect these babies? Although it this seems like the most obvious question ever asked, the researchers who put out the Medicaid report took some time to explain.

Although the study did not examine the specific reasons expanded Medicaid coverage decreased infant mortality, they had some theories: “[R]eductions in unintended pregnancies and improved preconception, prenatal and maternal chronic disease, and mental health management for mothers throughout their child’s infancy could have contributed to this reduction,” they wrote.

Yep. Give moms good, thorough pre-pregnancy and prenatal care – care they have access to and don’t have to stay up all night worrying about affording. Make sure they have a safe place for their babies to be born, and good postpartum care … and lives will be saved.

Listen to me: currently, health insurance in our country is a disaster. Another devastating report just came out that the number of uninsured kids in America increased by 276,000 in Trump’s first year in office. THIS IS NOT OKAY.

We can quibble about what the exact best way to do this is, but there should be no question at all that any one who needs to see a doctor should be offered that right, no matter where they come from or how much money they have. This isn’t a matter of politics either. When we are talking about the life and death of babies and children, it’s a human right’s issue.

So let’s get our act together, America. Let’s get everyone insured, NOW.

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