Fresh off passing a budget that will increase Ohio’s infant mortality rate, Sen. Shannon Jones is touring the state with the Senate Medicaid, Health & Human Services Committee.

In 2009, the Ohio Department of Health formed the Ohio Infant Mortality Task Force (OIMTF) to address our infant mortality rate, which is currently 3rd-highest in the nation; our infant mortality rate among African-Americans is the highest in the nation. (In 2009, we were the 12th-highest. Go Team Kasich!)

The OIMTF made a 10-point recommendation to address the problem, but the Ohio budget systematically undermines each of the 10 recommendations. There’s a chart at the bottom of the page with more detail.

Tentative dates and cities include:

  • August 22 Cincinnati, OH
  • August 29 Columbus, OH
  • September 19 Toledo, OH
  • September 26 Dayton, OH
  • October 3 Cleveland, OH

They’ll be hearing “the concerns of constituents… regarding infant mortality rates and health disparities.”

That’s convenient. Here are some sample questions to ask Sen. Jones when she comes to town.

  • Early prenatal care is the most effective way to reduce infant mortality, but almost half of Ohio women are uninsured when they become pregnant. Expanding Medicaid would mean that all pregnant Ohioans can get immediate prenatal care without seeking reimbursement. Sen. Jones, how you do propose to lower the infant mortality rate without expanding insurance coverage to all Ohioans?
  • In 2009, ODH recommended expanding pre-pregnancy gynecological services. The most popular provider of these “family planning” services is Planned Parenthood, which every year sees 1 in 6 Ohio women. Sen. Jones, you just voted for a budget to take away funding from Planned Parenthood, raising the price of these family planning services. Does that mean that you disagree with the recommendation that women talk to a gynecologist before they get pregnant?
  • Eliminating health disparities based on income is an important way to reduce infant mortality. However, the Governor is setting up a system where people above poverty will get money to buy insurance, but people below the poverty level will get no money. Sen. Jones, how do you plan to eliminate health disparities without expanding Medicaid?
  • I want to thank Sen. Tavares for her budget amendment that would have worked to address prenatal and neonatal health outcomes. Sen. Jones, you tabled that amendment. Is the budget an inappropriate time to address health care policy?
  • The 2009 ODH report recommends a diverse network of health professionals. Would $13 billion in federal money help create a market-based network of health professionals in Ohio?
  • The Kasich administration has announced that it won’t do anything to promote Ohio’s exchange. Is expanding health insurance coverage not an effective way to increase the number of uninsured women who get pregnant?
  • The 2009 Infant Mortality Task Force recommended evidence-based funding for programs that serve pregnant women, but the Ohio budget specifically forbids the use of evidence in allocating the Women’s Health Program.
  • Sen. Jones, you wrote an amendment that requires abortion providers to make transfer agreements with private hospitals. In some cities that won’t be possible and those providers will close, even though they also offer the preconception and prenatal services that ODH recommends. Is it your opinion that increasing the risk of death in intended pregnancies is worth it for lowering the options to terminate unintended pregnancies?
  • Preterm birth is the main cause of infant mortality. Women should see doctors as soon as they’re pregnant so that they can be educated on how to avoid preterm birth. Why does the Ohio budget send women to Crisis Pregnancy Centers when it’s been shown that they provide medically inaccurate and misleading information to pregnant women?
  • ODH recommends that Ohio address the effects of racism on infant mortality. Infant mortality is higher in African-American Ohioans than it is in Africans who immigrate to Ohio. In June, Stand Your Ground was introduced in Ohio. Do you think that will increase the perception of racism in African-American communities?
  • If we increase public awareness of women’s health before women get pregnant, there will be more healthy pregnancies in Ohio. Are Ohio’s attempts to shut down family planning centers intended to make the public more aware of the importance of family planning?

She’ll probably respond “I’m pro-life” to these questions, which of course opens the door to the follow up:

  • Sen. Jones, is it “pro-life” to vote for a budget that will raise the infant mortality rate?

If the press won’t ask these questions, I’m really glad that Sen. Jones is giving us the opportunity to ask them ourselves.

Here are the recommendations from the OIMTF:

Recommendation in plain English What the GOP did instead
Provide comprehensive reproductive health services before, during, and after pregnancy Fund family planning and coordinate with prenatal Defunded family planning, defunded prenatal providers who work with Planned Parenthood
Eliminate health disparities Universal health care Denied insurance to 350,000 Ohioans
Prioritize funding based on outcome and cost-effectiveness Competitive grant process Instructed ODH to award grants based on politics and ideology
Implement health promotion and education for pregnant women Have women talk to medical professionals as soon as they’re pregnant Funded CPCs, who lie to women about pregnancy
Improve data collection Use insurance actuaries to centralize data Kept 350,000 out of the insurance database
Expand quality improvement initiatives Use outcome-based payment system Rejected ODJFS’s waiver to use outcome-based payments
Address the effects of racism on infant mortality Resuscitating Jim Crow laws certainly doesn’t help ”I don’t want to make blah people’s lives better”
Increase public awareness on the effect of preconception health on birth outcomes Improve access to family planning Defunds family planning, funds anti-science CPCs
Develop, recruit and train a diverse network of culturally competent health professionals statewide Increase the number and diversity of health care providers Rejects $13 billion in federal money for health care providers
Establish a consortium to implement and monitor the recommendations of the Ohio Infant Mortality Task Force Don’t forget what we learned in 2009 Completely ignores what we learned in 2009
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