Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Our rate of infant mortality is unacceptable.

We know we have a problem with our health care system in America.

But now it is clear where some of the worst of the problem is falling: on babies.

CHICAGO - America may be the world’s superpower, but its survival rate for newborn babies ranks near the bottom among modern nations, better only than Latvia.

Among 33 industrialized nations, the United States is tied with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with a death rate of nearly 5 per 1,000 babies, according to a new report. Latvia’s rate is 6 per 1,000.

Of course Latvia at least has the excuse that it was a former Soviet Republic, and so is only now becoming a truly 'modern' nation after decades of communism. And we are tied with four other nations, three of which also were part of the former 'second world.' All of the other modern, industrialized nations-- yes, even Russia itself, do better on this account than the United States. Japan is first on the list, with 1.8 deaths per 1,000.

Of course, as we have been reminded many times, the United States is the only industrialized country in the world without universal health care. Why does this have much to do with it? Simple-- most newborns are born to younger women, and the people who are most likely to not have much and be working jobs which do not provide insurance are young workers, both male and female. At this time in life, money is hard to come by, prenatal care is not as high a priority (since paying for it may mean skimping on some other necessities-- like food or heat) and then after birth, visits to the doctor and hospital are likely to be delayed, in some cases until it is too late. As I blogged a couple of months ago, there is a direct correlation between income level and abortion rates, in that study data now confirms that many poor women choose abortion not because they even want one, but simply because they can afford it but can't afford the hospital bill associated with childbirth. What this story out today shows is that the problems that these women face before birth, may continue after birth. In particular, if a child is born needing specialized care, they may simply be unable to pay for it. The child is not immediately in danger, so mother and child are discharged from the hospital, but the child is still at an elevated level of danger, and with thousands of dollars in bills piling up on a twenty-something year old's wage level, it is not hard to see why these children don't get the proper medical care during their first year of life.

People may accumulate wealth later in life and have no problem providing for themselves or their families, but by this time, their babies are either grown, nearly grown, or they lost their children early in life.

And the study does confirm this link:

The U.S. ranking is driven partly by racial and income health care disparities. Among U.S. blacks, there are 9 deaths per 1,000 live births, closer to rates in developing nations than to those in the industrialized world...

The researchers also said lack of national health insurance and short maternity leaves likely contribute to the poor U.S. rankings. Those factors can lead to poor health care before and during pregnancy, increasing risks for premature births and low birth weight, which are the leading causes of newborn death in industrialized countries.

True, there are other issues in additon to lack of national health care but this certainly plays into it. As I blogged two weeks ago, the rate of people without health insurance in the lower middle class (including a lot of the women who are now bearing children) jumped upward from 28% just four years ago to 41% without health care insurance today.

What can we do about this?

The proposal I made in my March 13 post bears repeating.

As such, I would like to ask conservatives if they would object to a very limited but very complete universal coverage bill: a bill which covers all hospital, physician, technician and prescription costs associated with pregnancy, delivery and if necessary complications directly arising from pregnancy and birth, including to correct birth defects and any complications arising to the mother. I might also add to this universal coverage within the first year of life.

Don't we owe this much to our children?

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