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State aims to tighten monitoring, take steps to reduce infant mortality

by MARC KOVAC | RPC CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published: September 29, 2016 4:48 PM

Columbus  — The state would require closer tracking of how public funds for programs aimed at reducing the number of premature deaths of babies are spent and whether those efforts are effectively reducing infant mortality rates, with support for those having the intended impact, under legislation passed by the Ohio Senate Sept. 28.
“Our state needs to do a better job saving babies, and this is part of that discussion,” Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) told reporters during a midday press conference at the Statehouse. “… We know that we have a wealth of medical and clinical knowledge, facilities, experts, and for that we’re very grateful in Ohio. This bill is about trying to put those tools into place to make a difference.”
SB 332, which also includes a ban on the sale of crib bumper pads, free safe-sleep training for parents and quarterly scorecards spotlighting baby births and deaths, passed on a unanimous vote of 29-1 and heads to the Ohio House for further consideration.
The legislation caps several years of work by lawmakers, who toured facilities and programs around the state and gathered as part of a Commission on Infant Mortality. The latter released a report with recommendations earlier this year; SB 332 would codify those recommendations.
Among other provisions, the bill would require state health and Medicaid officials to provide increased access to birth and death information, with quarterly reports made available to the public.
The state agencies would be required to create scorecards that include details of baby deaths by race and region. And Medicaid officials would have to provide detailed information about how $13.4 million in state funding was used over two fiscal years and how effectively the recipient programs and initiatives addressed infant mortality in high-risk neighborhoods.
Additionally, the bill would ban the sale of crib bumpers, with penalties for repeat violations, and health officials would be required to provide annual safe sleep training to parents and caregivers in infant morality hotspots.
Sen. Shannon Jones (R-Springboro), a primary co-sponsor of the legislation, said the ultimate goal is to ensure state and local efforts are effective in reducing premature baby deaths.
That doesn’t necessarily spending more money on those programs, she said.
“The bottom line is we’re trying to focus and target our efforts in those proven and evidence-based interventions… so that we can actually, in a way that’s meaningful and timely, improve the outcomes,” Jones said. She added, “We are spending a lot of money — more and more every year… Is $55 billion [in Medicaid spending] enough for the worst health outcomes in the nation? … We have to understand what it is we’re paying for and then invest in those things that are actually outcome oriented… We have to step back a minute and say spending more money may not get us better results.”
In 2014, the state’s infant mortality rate was 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, Jones said. Black babies died at a rate of 14.3 per 1,000 live births, more than triple the rate for white births.
“This blatant racial disparity is inexcusable and a clear indicator that our systems are failing to adequately serve the people of Ohio,” Jones aid. “This gross inequity really demands outrage from us all.”
Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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