VanNess’ efforts to elevate the issue are critical, since it will take an infusion of resources to make an impact. So far, both Pence and the Indiana General Assembly have been averse to expanding health care coverage to the uninsured, and have worked to prevent Medicaid dollars from going to women’s health clinics like Planned Parenthood because they also provide abortions.
Some advice for how to handle the politics of infant mortality was offered by another summit speaker: Texas Health Commissioner and Indiana native Dr. David Lakey, who told the audience, “We have a moral obligation to confront this issue.”
To do so in his state, he had to convince conservative lawmakers to restore the funding for primary health care for low-income women that was slashed as part of a bitter battle to remove abortion-affiliated providers, namely Planned Parenthood, from the state’s health program.
Earlier this year, the Texas legislature agreed to do so by offsetting the impact of those cuts with the largest financial package for women’s health services in state history, increasing spending by more than $100 million. The state plans to spend 60 percent of its primary care expansion dollars on family planning services and provide wraparound benefits, including prenatal and dental care for pregnant women, which are not covered by other public programs.
Lakey said Texas legislators were persuaded to restore the funding in part by an economic argument: Nearly 60 percent of all births in Texas are paid for by the state’s Medicaid dollars, and the average cost to the state Medicaid program for a prematurely born baby is $71,000.
What also worked: Lakey convinced Texas legislators that reducing infant mortality was a noble cause that would appeal to voters back home.
“I don’t think there is a cause that can line folks up better than to talk about increasing the chances that every baby born in your state will have a healthy, happy first birthday,” Lakey said. “Who can argue that’s not a role government should play?”
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for CNHI newspapers in Indiana, including the Kokomo Tribune. She can be reached at email@example.com.