Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Healthy Start Legislation



Today, President Bush signed into law critical legislation to provide low-income children greater access to critical prenatal and early infant care. The Healthy Start Reauthorization Act of 2007 provides community-based grants to help our nation’s most disadvantaged children survive infancy and live longer, more productive lives.

“Providing young children with the care they need is a fundamental right supported by a majority of Americans. It begins by ensuring that pregnant women get proper care to deliver strong, healthy babies, and continues by providing those newborns quality, reliable care as well,” said Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus.

“The evidence is clear that the Healthy Start program not only improves outcomes for low-income pregnant women and infants, but also reduces expenditures associated with providing more expensive and frequent medical treatment that those who do not get proper prenatal and early infant care often require. And because every Healthy Start site develops a consortium of neighborhood residents, parents, medical providers, social service agencies, faith representatives, and business leaders, the whole community is engaged in helping children to survive and succeed. We are thankful to the Congress and the President recognizing the need for renewal of this critical program,” Lesley continued.

While the United States’ infant mortality rate has improved over the past 40 years, it still ranks only 28th among industrialized nations. Further, in southern states, the infant mortality rate is climbing for the first time in decades.

Healthy Start has been enormously successful in reducing the rates of infant mortality that are prevalent in the communities where it operates – most typically, communities with large minority populations, high rates of unemployment and poverty, and those with limited access to health care. There are nearly 100 Healthy Start projects currently operating in 37 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories. These projects have been tremendously successful at reducing infant mortality, improving prenatal care, reducing low birthweight, and removing barriers to health care for pregnant women and newborns.

“Healthy Start helps ensure that our nation’s most disadvantaged children survive infancy and live longer, healthier lives,” said Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), coauthor of the legislation. “Healthy Start provides essential prenatal care for women regardless of their financial situation. This bill advances the public health and promotes the common good.”

“Healthy Start programs, like North Carolina’s Baby Love Plus, have made great progress in reducing infant mortality, premature birth, and low birth weight,” said coauthor Senator Richard Burr. “Healthy Start is a critical program that saves lives and ensures more of our nation’s children stay healthy. I am pleased my Senate colleagues took a step towards ensuring more of America’s children start life in good health.”

For example, low birth-weight babies that survive their first year incur medical bills averaging $93,800 per infant. Healthy start grants have helped to address some of the critical health disparities facing minority communities. For example, African American babies are 2.4 times more likely as white infants to die before their first birthday. In addition, women who do not receive prenatal care during the first trimester have infant mortality rates 40 percent higher than those women receiving early prenatal care.

After decades of decline, 32 states across the country saw their infant mortality rates increase, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Moreover, sixteen of those states face the double negative of having an infant mortality rate above the national average while also having their rate increase. Those states include Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization that is committed to making children and their families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions.
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