Health Care Reform 2013: Equality Of Care Is Key to Reducing Infant Mortality

Good news came in small packages this week — that is, news about infant mortality rates around the world. The advancements in other countries serve as a reminder of how poorly the U.S. ranks amongst industrialized nations in maternal health.  

In Lusaka, Zambia, a study conducted in a local hospital found that by using a two-cent plastic bag, doctors can reduce premature infant deaths by wrapping babies in plastic to prevent hypothermia. While doctors in developed nations have already used a similar technique, this cost-effective measure could have big results in marginalized communities. 

This week also marked the 75th anniversary of Finland's cardboard-box program, which provides all newborns an equal start to life, according to the government. Expecting moms receive a box, which also serves as a crib, filled with goods such as clothing and blankets. As a result, the country has seen a sharp decline in infant mortality rates. 

While Zambia and Finland are on quite the opposite ends of the spectrum for infant-mortality rates, the U.S. surprisingly ranks towards the bottom of developed countries. In fact, the U.S. has the highest first-day death rate among newborns in all industrialized nations. If Finland has proven that equality is the answer, what does that say about the direction the U.S. should go?

One solution to curb high infant-mortality rates in the U.S. seems to be the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The health care legislation, which goes into effect this fall, provides states with the opportunity to opt in or out of expanding Medicaid. The program is crucial to expecting moms and newborns because Medicaid funds 40% of births in the country. It insures women for 60 days after delivery, covers newborns until their first birthday, and allows for more thorough preventative and prenatal care. The first four weeks are crucial in determining a baby's chances of survival, and adequate care makes all the difference. 

It comes as no surprise that states with the highest infant mortality rates are also those opposed to expanding Medicaid under Obamacare. Of the 13 states not participating, there is a correlation to high poverty rates, lack of health coverage, and high mortality rates. Communities across the U.S., particularly in the Deep South and Appalachia, have mortality rates equivalent to those developing countries.  

Polling data released this week shows that Obamacare's popularity is at an ultimate low. According to Kevin Drum of Mother Jones, "Dems need to be promoting Obamacare with the same fervor Republicans bring to the attack, pointing out its benefits and upsides at every opportunity." However opponents of the bill have outspent supporters by a greater than five-to-one margin, and the bill's success relies heavily on public participation. 

The U.S. should be at the forefront of industrial nations in maternal health, which is why garnering support amongst low-income areas is crucial. If hesitant states signed on to expand Medicaid, we could see a decrease in infant mortality rates and other preventable deaths. If Finland has shown us anything, it’s that equality leads to success, which this program tries to accomplish by improving access to care.