Making sure babies are born healthy is a smart investment

by James Jimenez, Albuquerque Journal
April 12, 2017

Like the Albuquerque Journal editorial board, we envision a New Mexico where the economy and quality of life are as wonderful as the scenery, cultural traditions and local food. We want a New Mexico where more people have the knowledge and skills needed to earn family-sustaining wages, where businesses are born and flourish, and where crime and drug use are a scourge of the past. We believe everyone is better off when no one is left behind. As optimists, we believe such a New Mexico is possible. As realists, we know it will take hard work and strategic investments.

We believe one good and strategic investment is to ensure that all babies – no matter how much money their parents make – get the prenatal, birth, and infant care that gives them the healthiest start possible. The Journal believes it is a tragedy that Medicaid covers 72 percent of New Mexico’s births, as they make clear in their April 2 editorial.

The real tragedy, of course, is New Mexico’s poverty rate. Poverty, as the academics say, is “sticky.” It has multiple causes that entangle every aspect of life for the people who are in it. One of the best indicators of whether someone will live in poverty as an adult is whether they lived in it as a child. As sticky as poverty is, the cycle can be broken. And it must be broken if New Mexico is ever to live up to its potential. As advocates for children, we believe it’s only through strategic investments – like Medicaid – that we can break the cycle of poverty.

Consider this from the editorial: “Having that much of the state’s population depend on tax dollars to cover the cost of births and infant health care is simply unsustainable.” On its face, that statement makes sense. But replace “births and infant health care” with “education.” It no longer makes sense, does it? No one would say that it is “unsustainable” to have 72 percent of the state’s children depend on tax dollars to cover the cost of education. We know that education is a smart public investment that makes our economy possible – so much so that states are working to expand it. Thanks to advances in science, we now understand that the brain architecture that makes learning possible is built within the first five years of life. So it’s now broadly accepted that early childhood care and learning services are a smart public investment that further leverages the investments we make in K-12 education.

We need to recognize programs that ensure healthy births are the same kind of smart investments necessary for tomorrow’s workforce. Similarly, investments in health, especially for women, translate not only to improved child well-being but also to economic growth, research shows. The key challenge with our current health care system is that multitudes cannot access it. Even routine health care – such as a complication-free birth – is now too expensive for average Americans to pay for out of pocket. If we’d designed our educational system so that multitudes could not access it, a huge swath of the public would be unable to read or write. Fortunately, we didn’t.

Offering Medicaid to pregnant women who otherwise would not have health care is more than a way to help ensure New Mexico’s children are born as healthy as possible. It’s also more cost-effective than fixing preventable problems later. What we really need is an economy that doesn’t leave so many hard-working people behind without health coverage. That’s the outcome New Mexico Voices for Children has a vested interest in creating.

Copyright 2017, Albuquerque Journal (https://www.abqjournal.com/986319/making-sure-babies-are-born-healthy-is-a-smart-investment.html)

James Jimenez is the Executive Director for New Mexico Voices for Children.