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BY: SUSAN TEBBEN – Ohio Capital Journal

A coalition of health care advocates want to see congressional investment in child health care by the end of the year, including permanent funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The coalition, Protect Our Care Ohio, held a press event to push for improvements to maternal health, child outcomes and the issues like discrimination that can increase mortality and lower birth rates, particularly in Black Americans and Black Ohioans.

“Our Black babies are dying at a rate of three times that of which babies, even here in Toledo/Lucas County,” said Celeste Smith, former coordinator of the Toledo/Lucas County Commission on Minority Health.

An 2020 analysis by the Commonwealth Fund showed that maternal deaths have been increasing in the U.S., but that most of those deaths are preventable. They found that a “relative undersupply of maternity care providers, especially midwives” and a lack of “comprehensive postpartum supports” contributes to the mortality rates in the country.

The study also found that more than half of pregnancy-related deaths happen after birth.

The CDC found that Black babies make up the highest number of deaths per live births in the country as well, with a maternal death rate for Black mothers of three to four times the rate of white mothers.

Part of the problem, Ohio health advocates say, is the price of health care. For those families that have insurance, often the plans they can afford leave holes in coverage. Many plans chosen for their affordability have high deductibles, even those provided by an employer.

“Employee-sponsored health care is no longer the gold standard,” said Erika White, chair of the Healthy Lucas County CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program). “In reality, many families can not afford their employer health plans and that means the care that we need for our children is falling to the side.

It is for that reason that the CHIP program through Medicaid is such a needed resource, White said.

The CHIP program works through Medicaid and separate CHIP programs and is funded both through states and federal block grants.

According to an annual report filed with the U.S. Department of Medicaid, Ohio’s child enrollment in CHIP rose more than 4% between 2020 and 2021. The increase was due to “economic and policy changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the report.

The Ohio Department of Medicaid has “educated state agency partners and numerous community stakeholders that work with low-income families” to increase outreach efforts, but in terms of reaching uninsured children, Ohio “does not have an effective way to measure” the outreach methods, the report stated.

One way the problem could be helped is through the permanent authorization of funds for CHIP, which is currently active through June 2023.

“CHIP is a block grant program, meaning Congress must act periodically to extend funding for the program,” White said.

A lapse in the funding could mean a lack of health care access for millions of children, more than 9 million nationally in most recent figures from the U.S. Department of Medicaid.

spending bill being considered by Congress could be the way forward for child health care funding, and an easy way for lawmakers to show their priorities, Smith says.

“As we reach the end of the year, Congress has not just an opportunity but an obligation to take meaningful action to confront this preventable crisis,” Smith said.

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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