All children deserve to have a strong start in life and the chance to become a happy, healthy, productive adults. Infant mortality rates, or the number of infants who die before reaching their first birthday, are often a strong indicator of how healthy and well-off a country or a region is. North Carolina’s infant mortality rate had been declining over the past 40 years but has stalled recently. Our state now lags behind the rest of the county, and ranking 42nd. This statistic is even grimmer for African-American and Native American babies, as infant health disparities along racial and ethnic lines continue to widen in our state.
A mother’s health insurance status before and between her pregnancies is a strong predictor of how healthy her infant will be. The link between a mother and her child’s health is a well-established one, but that link extends far back beyond the time of conception.
Meet Anna: Anna is a 29-year-old woman who lives in rural Pembroke County. She works full-time as a home health aide. Her job earns the minimum wage in North Carolina, or $7.25 an hour. In one year, she’ll make close to $15,000 working 40 hours a week. Since North Carolina rejected Medicaid expansion, Anna doesn’t fit the categorical criteria to qualify for Medicaid coverage. And she doesn’t make enough money to qualify for tax credits through the Affordable Care Act’s Marketplace Exchange.
Anna can’t afford private health insurance and as a result, she cannot afford to go to the doctor regularly for check-ups, screenings, or diagnostics that will prevent chronic conditions later in her life. She also can’t afford medications and treatments if she does get sick.
Last month, Anna discovered she is pregnant with her first child. Because she is now both pregnant and low-income, Anna is now eligible to be covered under Medicaid. She applies for coverage and waits about three or four weeks to receive confirmation that she is eligible. She goes through the list of doctors who accept Medicaid in her area. During her breaks at work she starts making phone calls to find a doctor who will see her on her day off.
By the time Anna is able to see a provider, she is already six months into her pregnancy. She will now only be able to receive late prenatal care. Her infant will be more likely to have health problems than a baby born to a mother who was insured prior to her pregnancy or who received prenatal care. Anna’s baby is more likely to be low birth weight and also more likely to die before turning one, simply because Anna wasn’t able to afford health care before she become pregnant.
One in five women of childbearing age in North Carolina is uninsured like Anna, and more than half of them lack access to affordable health care options. Our state stands at an important crossroads. We have the opportunity to accept federal funding on the table and the expand Medicaid to all low-income adults like Anna, and ensure the health of the next generations. Or we can continue to reject expansion dollars and stand back while the health disparities in our state continue to grow.
Sign the petition to expand Medicaid for a healthier North Carolina.