Op Ed

Healthy Women, Healthy Babies Program Overdue

State’s black infant mortality rate is worst in the nation, this bill addresses problem.

By - Mar 25th, 2019 03:28 pm
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Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

For those who choose motherhood, giving birth should be a personal and beautiful experience.  As mothers, we are blessed with happy and healthy children, but this cannot be said for all women in Wisconsin. The hard truth is that Wisconsin is one of the worst states to raise a Black family, and this reality begins with our alarming racial disparities in maternal and birth outcomes.

For the last 30 years in our state, babies born to Black women have been two to three times more likely to die in the first year of their life than babies born to white women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wisconsin’s Black infant mortality rate is the worst in the nation, and the Black-white gap in infant mortality is the second largest. For maternal mortality, the rate for Black mothers is five times the rate for white mothers.

These shameful systemic inequities have gone unaddressed for far too long, and that’s why we are so proud to support Governor Tony Evers’ “Healthy Women, Healthy Babies” budget proposal. Governor Evers knows that our state thrives when women and children thrive. His groundbreaking plan devotes $28 million to reducing health disparities and making sure all women have access to preventative health services like cervical and breast cancer screenings.

To address our infant mortality crisis, the plan creates an Infant Mortality Prevention Program in the Department of Health Services, designating five positions to focus on helping families obtain housing, access to nutritional and family supports, and stable jobs.

The proposal provides $618,700 to make doula services reimbursable through Medicaid and fund training programs for doulas. Doulas serve as critical emotional support counselors to mothers before, during or after labor, and have been found to reduce the likelihoods of having a low birth weight baby and experiencing birth complications.

The proposal also devotes $767,200 to the state’s Minority Health Grant, which funds organizations that work in underserved communities of color with high health disparities.

The largest investment in the “Healthy Women, Healthy Babies” initiative expands postpartum coverage for mothers enrolled in Medicaid from 60 days post-birth to a full year. At $22.9 million, this is the largest investment in the proposal, and it aligns with best practices for healthy mothers set by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Lastly, the plan restores funding for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and increases funding for the state’s Women’s Health Block Grant to improve access to cancer screenings, prenatal counseling, and STI prevention, testing, and treatment.

These groundbreaking investments will not just help address our disturbing rates of mortality for Black mothers and babies, but they will help address inequities in education, in the Wisconsin workforce, and our unjust criminal justice system by connecting the dots and setting children and families up for success from day one. We know the preceding 9 months and first 3 years of a child’s life are crucial to ensuring their lifelong success. Wisconsin communities of color should no longer be subjected to this neglect and trauma. As a state, we must ensure that we are doing everything we can to help communities of color not just survive, but thrive in our state.

Shelia Stubbs, Chris Taylor, Melissa Sargent and Lisa Subeck are Democratic representatives representing Madison.

Categories: Health, Op-Ed, Politics

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