Posts Tagged ‘politics and healthcare’

Budget Crisis Avoided, But What About the Babies? Can They Live With $504 Million Less in Funding?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Let’s start here:  The Federal Government Shutdown has been avoided.  Federal workers and government contractors that depend on a functioning federal government can breathe a deep sigh of relief.  As the hysteria subsides and we return to business as usual, we should ask ourselves – “Are we really returning to business as usual?”  When it comes to your health and more specifically, the healthcare that you and your baby receive, the answer very well may be a resounding “NO.”

How It All Happened

I suppose I should set the stage for you, in case you missed the hand-wringing and other hysterics.  The two houses of Congress are divided.  As is par for the course, Democrats profess that one course of action is correct and Republicans declare that another course is more appropriate.  A budget needs to be in place for the government to function, yet the two political parties couldn’t come to an agreement.  A shutdown of the federal government was promised if a compromise was not reached.  The American public held its breath—or protested.  At the 11th hour, cuts were made, backroom deals were struck, and Washington spoke:  there will be $38 billion dollars trimmed from the federal budget.  On a positive note, federal agencies will remain operational until the end of September. Reason to cheer? Maybe. Before we break out the party hats and noise makers, let’s take a look at how healthcare fared.  The following areas are among those cut:

-         Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC):  $504 million

-         Community Health Centers:  $600 million

-         Substantance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration:  $45 million

-         Infectious Disease prevention:  $277 million

Total:  $1.426 Billion.  Yes, billion, with a “B”!

WIC, Babies, Community Health & Death

Women, Infants and Children, otherwise known as WIC, is a program that provides food for poor women and children up to the age of five.  WIC’s mission statement is “to safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5, who are at nutritional risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating, and referrals to health care.” WIC gives targeted nutritional supplementation to help prevent birth defects and developmental problems caused by malnutrition.  It also provides information on healthy foods and referrals for medical care, according to the program’s website.

The WIC program gave out about $7 billion in food grants to states in 2010. There were nearly 8.9 million households receiving WIC benefits at the end of 2010, according to the Department of Agriculture. Locally, on an annual basis, Maryland WIC serves over 130,000 women, infants and children each month.  More than 151,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants, and toddlers benefit from the program in Virginia.  Despite the number of women, infants and children assisted by the program, the recent budget compromise promises to slash $504 million in funding. The startling aspect is the number of women and children that are eligible but for one reason or another are not enrolled in the program. There is an estimated 43 percent of women and children, who are eligible for benefits but aren’t receiving them.  The cuts to funding will effectively foreclose their opportunity to receive benefits. At risk and in need, they will have to look elsewhere.  Sadly, many will not.

In addition to the significant cuts to WIC’s budget, the budget for community health centers would drop by about $600 million, affecting access to basic health services for approximately 5 million low-income Americans, according to the National Association for Community Health Centers. By 2015, according to NACHC, the reduction could undermine health centers’ capacity to provide services to 40 million people.

But what does it mean?

It is 2011.  My computer, cell phone and other gadgets all confirm that we are soundly within the confines of the 21st century. While we can certainly live with the fact that automobiles do not take flight a la The Jetsons, what is troubling is that we are continuing to battle fetal death in the United States.  Around 2.6 million babies are born with no signs of life after 28 weeks’ gestation – which defines a stillbirth. Undoubtedly, most of these stillbirths take place in developing countries.  Nonetheless, in the world’s wealthiest nations around 1 in every 300 babies are stillborn.  In 2005, data from the National Vital Statistics Report showed a US national average stillbirth rate of 6.2 per 1000 births. In fact, of the world’s most advanced economies, the United States has the highest infant mortality rate.  In Maryland, a preliminary report from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) shows that Maryland’s infant mortality rate is 7.2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

The major causes of stillbirths—complications during labor, maternal infections, hypertension, diabetes, and fetal growth restriction—aren’t too different from the major causes of maternal or neonatal deaths. Among the most fundamental ways to prevent stillbirths and fetal death is to improve basic and comprehensive emergency obstetric care. Providing pregnant women folic acid supplements, preventing disease, and improved detection and management of infection during pregnancy are simple ways to ensure babies are born healthy.

According to WIC, numerous studies have shown that pregnant women who participate in WIC have longer pregnancies leading to fewer premature births; have fewer low birth-weight babies; experience fewer fetal and infant deaths; seek prenatal care earlier in pregnancy and consume more of such key nutrients as iron, protein, calcium and vitamin C. That being said, the budget negotiations resulted in drastic cuts to a program effective at reducing harm to the nation’s most vulnerable?  Oh, boy.

With the exception of a short stint as a student legislator in high school and college, I do not have meaningful experience in the political arena.  I will not pretend to have significant insight into what it takes to balance a federal budget.  As a lay person, what I can do is look at the statistics and read the reports.  The numbers and reports tell me that in the 21st century America, a scary number of its children are being harmed by the preventable.  On top of that, the funding—the lifeblood—that sustains the programs aimed at reducing the problem just took a devastating blow. Will the programs designed to help our most vulnerable continue to operate? We can only hope.   At least, for the sake of the children. So please excuse me if I don’t put on my party hat and celebrate the $38 billion in budget cuts. I haven’t found a cause for celebration just yet.

Agree or disagree? That’s why the comment section is below. Let me know if you have your party shoes on.