Welfare and Medicaid Cuts Raise Infant Mortality Rate

Conservatives kill babies.

Not with their own hands, of course. They don’t strangle them in their cribs. They let their anti-life policies do it for them.

For decades but especially for the last 12 years, the very same conservatives who scream that the removal of an unformed scut of cells in a womb is murder have been systematically depriving real life pregnant women who will be carrying to term of luxuries like food and adequate medical care because they’re “too expensive”.

At the Federal level, Medicaid and welfare have been consistently cut every year conservatives have ruled the roost in order to trim taxes to the nub for the rich, hand over $$$billions$$$ in corporate welfare to their masters campaign contributors, and prosecute a war nobody wanted on behalf of neoconservative imperialists too dumb to know enough to come in out of the rain. In primarily liberal Democratic states, some of that safety net has been replaced but in the predominantly-conservative Southern states, it hasn’t and the results are coming in. They’re not pretty, but then nothing much in conservative-run America is these days.

The policies of so-called “pro-life” conservatives are raising infant mortality rates in the South to the such a point that Third World countries have lower rates than parts of the US. Are we proud yet?

For decades, Mississippi and neighboring states with large black populations and expanses of enduring poverty made steady progress in reducing infant death. But, in what health experts call an ominous portent, progress has stalled and in recent years the death rate has risen in Mississippi and several other states.

The setbacks have raised questions about the impact of cuts in welfare and Medicaid and of poor access to doctors, and, many doctors say, the growing epidemics of obesity, diabetes and hypertension among potential mothers, some of whom tip the scales here at 300 to 400 pounds.

“I don’t think the rise is a fluke, and it’s a disturbing trend, not only in Mississippi but throughout the Southeast,” said Dr. Christina Glick, a neonatologist in Jackson, Miss., and past president of the National Perinatal Association.

It’s hardly a “fluke” given that advocates for poor women have been warning this would happen for years. Only die-hard conservative fantasists could possibly be surprised by an outcome as predictable, as inevitable as this. A Democratic president in the 90’s may have softened the edges of the worst of the damage but once conservative Republicans owned the govt lock, stock and barrel it was only a matter of time before babies started dying. Not all that much time, either.

To the shock of Mississippi officials, who in 2004 had seen the infant mortality rate — defined as deaths by the age of 1 year per thousand live births — fall to 9.7, the rate jumped sharply in 2005, to 11.4. The national average in 2003, the last year for which data have been compiled, was 6.9. Smaller rises also occurred in 2005 in Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee. Louisiana and South Carolina saw rises in 2004 and have not yet reported on 2005.

Whether the rises continue or not, federal officials say, rates have stagnated in the Deep South at levels well above the national average.

Of course, there is a deeper background cause than just the stinginess of conservative Scrooges and their indifference to or hatred of the poor. Beneath the surface of their greed/classism is a swamp of even uglier roots: racism.

Most striking, here and throughout the country, is the large racial disparity. In Mississippi, infant deaths among blacks rose to 17 per thousand births in 2005 from 14.2 per thousand in 2004, while those among whites rose to 6.6 per thousand from 6.1. (The national average in 2003 was 5.7 for whites and 14.0 for blacks.)

The overall jump in Mississippi meant that 65 more babies died in 2005 than in the previous year, for a total of 481.

A rate of 17 infant deaths per 1000 is comparable to the rates in Mexico, Panama, and Sri Lanka. It’s above – considerably above – those of Costa Rica, Slovakia, Chile and Cuba. Are we proud now?

Jamekia Brown, 22 and two months pregnant with her third child, lives next to the black people’s cemetery in the part of town called No Name, where multiple generations crowd into cheap clapboard houses and trailers.

So it took only a minute to walk to the graves of Ms. Brown’s first two children, marked with temporary metal signs because she cannot afford tombstones.

Her son, who was born with deformities in 2002, died in her arms a few months later, after surgery. Her daughter was stillborn the next year. Nearby is another green marker, for a son of Ms. Brown’s cousin who died at four months, apparently of pneumonia.

The main causes of infant death in poor Southern regions included premature and low-weight births; Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which is linked to parental smoking and unsafe sleeping positions as well as unknown causes; congenital defects; and, among poor black teenage mothers in particular, deaths from accidents and disease.

Dr. William Langston, an obstetrician at the Mississippi Department of Health, said in a telephone interview that officials could not yet explain the sudden increase and were investigating. Dr. Langston said the state was working to extend prenatal care and was experimenting with new outreach programs. But, he added, “programs take money, and Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation.”

Some, of course, know full well what the cause is. If others are surprised, they are not. It’s the mothers’ fault.

“I think the rise is real, and it’s going to get worse,” said Dr. Bouldin Marley, an obstetrician at a private clinic in Clarksdale since 1979. “The mothers in general, black or white, are not as healthy,” Dr. Marley said, calling obesity and its complications a main culprit.

Obesity makes it more difficult to do diagnostic tests like ultrasounds and can lead to hypertension and diabetes, which can cause the fetus to be undernourished, he said.

Another major problem, Dr. Marley said, is that some women arrive in labor having had little or no prenatal care. “I don’t think there’s a lack of providers or facilities,” he said. “Some women just don’t have the get up and go.”

Right. I’m sure that this has nothing whatever to do with it:

Poverty has climbed in Mississippi in recent years, and things are tougher in other ways for poor women, with cuts in cash welfare and changes in the medical safety net.

In 2004, Gov. Haley Barbour came to office promising not to raise taxes and to cut Medicaid. Face-to-face meetings were required for annual re-enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP, the children’s health insurance program; locations and hours for enrollment changed, and documentation requirements became more stringent.

As a result, the number of non-elderly people, mainly children, covered by the Medicaid and CHIP programs declined by 54,000 in the 2005 and 2006 fiscal years. According to the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program in Jackson, some eligible pregnant women were deterred by the new procedures from enrolling.

One former Medicaid official, Maria Morris, who resigned last year as head of an office that informed the public about eligibility, said that under the Barbour administration, her program was severely curtailed.

“The philosophy was to reduce the rolls and our activities were contrary to that policy,” she said.

And this must be mere co-incidence:

The state Health Department has cut back its system of clinics, in part because of budget shortfalls and a shortage of nurses. Some clinics that used to be open several days a week are now open once a week and some offer no prenatal care.

The department has also suffered management turmoil and reductions in field staff, problems so severe that the state Legislature recently voted to replace the director.

Oleta Fitzgerald, southern regional director for the Children’s Defense Fund, said: “When you see drops in the welfare rolls, when you see drops in Medicaid and children’s insurance, you see a recipe for disaster. Somebody’s not eating, somebody’s not going to the doctor and unborn children suffer.”

No kidding? You mean when wages stay stagnant or even drop as the cost of living goes up, poor folks fall behind? Jeez, I’m shocked.

[S]ocial workers say that the motivation of poor women…can be affected by cuts in social programs and a dearth of transportation as well as low self esteem.

“If you didn’t have a car and had to go 60 miles to see a doctor, would you go very often?” said Ramona Beardain, director of Delta Health Partners. The group runs a federally financed program, Healthy Start, that sends social workers and nurses to counsel pregnant teenagers and new mothers in seven counties of the Delta. “If they’re in school they miss the day; if they’re working they don’t get paid,” Ms. Beardain said.

See, the corporatocracy hasn’t just lowered wages, it has also eliminated unnecessary additions like paid sick days and company-provided health care. Vacations don’t exist much down here any more, either. And lots of used-to-be-full-time jobs are now part-time – the hours have been cut to save $$$ on what few benefits companies still offer by cutting the number of employees eligible for them.

[Janice Johnson] had been to a doctor for one visit but had to sign up for Medicaid to get continued care. That required a 36-mile trip to an office in Greenville.

“Can’t you go this Friday?” Ms. Johnson asked.

“Well, if my mom is going to Greenville,” Ms. Allen replied, “and if she has gas in the car.”

Gas, btw, is $3/gal and oil companies are raking in record profits while Republican conservatives do their damndest to block the minimum wage hike and the corporatocracy uses every sleazy trick in the book to keep unions out and wages down even as its executives pump their own salaries to skyhigh record amounts not seen since the days of the Robber Barons.

And all it cost us is an extra couple of thousand dead babies a year. Actual babies, not mythological, pretend babies little more than collections of cells in a womb when 90% of abortions are performed. Real, live, breathing babies who don’t live long enough to be called “children”.

A small price to pay for lower taxes, higher stock prices and much higher executive pay packages, right? Especially since by killing off the babies of poor women, we’re lowering the number of future poor people who might make some kind of financial demands on us. That’s what conservatives call a “win-win situation”.

So we’re proud of what we’ve done, aren’t we? No? Why not? It’s what we wanted. It’s what we voted for. What’s the problem?

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2 Responses

  1. […] on the women rather than on the policies that are causing infant mortality to rise. Similarly, Dispatch from the Trenches points to hypocrisy among conservative politicians who support a “culture of life” but […]

  2. […] (born March 17, barely a month ago) called Asset Almanac authored by one Benjamin Blair linked to Monday’s post on infant mortality along with posts on several other blogs he’d never heard of that also […]

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