Infant mortality rates are down — but benefits are divided along racial lines

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According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. infant mortality rate dropped 15% between 2005 and 2014, CNN reported Tuesday. And while fewer infants dying is objectively good, the lingering racial inequities reflected in the data are not. 

Infant deaths fell largely across the board, from 6.86 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births to 5.82 deaths per thousand births. Sudden infant death syndrome also decreased by 29%. But benefits have not been equally distributed: Though CNN did not specify what the infant mortality rate was for "non-Hispanic white women," it noted the rate was twice as high for "non-Hispanic black women." For American Indians and Alaska Natives, infant mortality rates remained relatively unchanged; at 21%, Asian and Pacific Islander groups saw the most significant drop.

"I think there was a public health push in the past decade to figure out ways to lower this rate, and it has made an impact," T.J. Matthews, a demographer at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics and the report's author, told CNN. 

If improved public health can lower infant mortality rates nationwide, then logic says blows to public health could – and likely would — push them back up. 

Under the American Health Care Act, 24 million people currently enrolled in Medicaid would lose insurance coverage by 2026. That's particularly relevant to the conversation about infant mortality, since an estimated 45% of U.S. births are Medicaid births. As Romper reported, the AHCA would not obligate insurance plans to cover prenatal care, childbirth or even care for newborn infants. 

Considering a majority of Medicaid patients are people of color, the prospect of closing the racial equality gaps in infant mortality within the next decade doesn't look good. 

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Claire Lampen

Claire is a staff writer at Mic who covers women's issues and reproductive rights. She is based in New York and can be reached at claire@mic.com.

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