Birth of a Problem: NC Continues Struggle with Healthy Births
RALEIGH, N.C. – In the 21st century, with modern technology and resources, having a healthy pregnancy and a baby in North Carolina isn't something families can take for granted, according to a new report released Wednesday by NC Child.
The study cites North Carolina's 2016 ranking of 39th in the country in infant mortality and makes the case that improving maternal health can increase the state's ranking in future years.
Whitney Tucker, research director at NC Child, says ensuring the health of the youngest generation starts with care that begins decades before.
"You have to think big picture, because the things that affect a growing and developing baby, those factors are put into play far ahead of when that baby is actually born, and so we have to start thinking about what we want for our children when we look at women who have the potential to have children," she states.
Tucker adds that women's lack of access to insurance is believed to be a large contributor to poor birth outcomes.
Chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension and others left untreated during a mother's pregnancy are believed to be large factors in the wellness of newborns.
More than 20 percent of women of reproductive age earn too little to qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, and many of them will not qualify for Medicaid under the current system.
Tucker says the report also highlights a large disparity in birth outcomes among black mothers and their white and Hispanic counterparts.
"Some research has suggested that disparity could be the result of stress on mothers because we know that that plays into a lot of these chronic conditions as well, and that some of that could be racialized stress that's due to racial discrimination, but also largely the impact of social-determined factors," she states.
Tucker says those factors include generational poverty and access to health care.
The Affordable Care Act allows states to expand Medicaid programs or create their own health care programs – both of which are funded primarily through the federal government – to provide for adults who make up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
The North Carolina General Assembly is currently considering a bill (HB 662) that would create the Carolina Cares program, which would expand care through the state Department of Health and Human Services.