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Ohio infant mortality remains among highest in nation

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Ohio’s infant mortality rate, a subject Gov. Kasich mentioned in his State of the State address last month, continues to be among the highest in the nation. With a rate of 7.7 deaths per 1,000 births as of 2012, the state’s infant mortality rate is “significantly higher than the national rate of 6.05 per 1,000,” according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Kasich praised Ohio for improvements in this area, saying in his speech that the state is “taking on infant mortality” and is doing well, but some Ohioans are worried potential changes regarding health services for women could hinder future progress.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, Ohio’s infant mortality rate has stagnated over the past decade and is higher than that of the 10 most populous states: 4.7 in California, 5.1 in New York and 6.1 in Texas. Within Ohio, infant mortality rates are highest among black Americans, and data show that although the rate for black Americans hasn’t repeated its 16.23 peak since 2008, the disparity remains, with 14 infant deaths per 1,000.

Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said the solution lies in easily accessible contraception and prenatal care for low-income women.

“One of the things that is really important in fighting infant mortality, of course, is helping people not get pregnant when they don’t intend to,” Copeland said. “Unfortunately, Governor Kasich has gone along with his agenda to defund Planned Parenthood and other family planning providers. That’s also kind of working against the goal he says he shares with us, which is to reduce infant mortality.”

Gains have been made in recent years. The year 2009 saw the birth of the Ohio Collaborative to Prevent Infant Mortality, a successor to the Ohio Infant Mortality Task Force. This task force issued a report with recommendations on how to address Ohio’s infant mortality issue, the first being to “provide comprehensive reproductive health services and service coordination for all women and children before, during and after pregnancy.”

Medicaid currently offers a program that helps achieve this goal. Pregnant women in families with an income of up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level now have access to services that cover prenatal care, family planning and reproductive health-related cancer screening. Following Kasich’s budget proposal, in 2016 women with an income of up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible for these programs.

Keeping the income eligibility for those programs at 200 percent of the federal poverty level is Copeland’s main agenda in fighting infant mortality, she said.

“It’s a health crisis,” she said. “And it’s one that deserves to be given more than lip service by this government.”

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