July 28, 2014

Lawmakers discuss reducing infant mortality

A special legislative committee is charged with studying the causes of infant mortality in Wisconsin; evaluating efforts to address this problem; reviewing the coordination of public health and Medicaid funding; looking at the costs of not addressing the problem.

Jason Helgerson is with the state Health Department. “I firmly believe it’s probably, ah, we have a lot to be proud of with regard to health care in Wisconsin, but I think one of the areas where we should be most ashamed is in terms of disparities in birth outcomes and I applaud this committee for its work in terms of trying to find ways to make further efforts to reduce those disparities.”

Helgerson says the biggest disparity is the persistent high death rate of infants born to African American women, especially in southeast Wisconsin. Those babies have been three to four times more likely to die before their first birthday than infants born to white women.

Helgerson says infant deaths can be reduced through improved access to high-quality health care; educational programs; and outreach interventions, especially early in the woman’s pregnancy. “We’ve done a number of things to try to fast track the enrollment process … express enrollment, you can get enrolled on the same day that you come in.” He says he’s traveled around to community health centers “particularly I’ve been traveling in Milwaukee going to the sites of some of our community-based partners in Milwaukee and seeing firsthand examples of women coming in to sign up for our programs far, far too late in their pregnancy.”

Helgerson believes data sharing can help, as well as increasing the use of ACCESS — a website connection to programs for Health, Nutrition, and Child Care. Helgerson is cognizant of the $2.7 billion budget deficit facing the new Administration, but believes some initiatives can save money while improving the quality of life for many Wisconsinites. Also, he believes the state can get additional funds as part of the federal health care legislation.

The Legislative Council Special Study Committee on Infant Mortality met on Tuesday at the state capitol.

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 2:00