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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–October 26, 2016

New Infant Mortality Data Show Stalled Progress
Closing the Health Insurance Coverage Gap Would Result in Healthier Babies

RALEIGH—The 2015 infant mortality rate rose to 7.3 deaths per 1,000 live births, the fourth time in the last five years North Carolina’s infant mortality rate has increased. North Carolina’s 2015 infant mortality rate is also above the national average and higher than in many of our neighboring states like West Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina.

Once again, stark racial and ethnic disparities persist–babies of color are much more likely to die before their first birthday than white babies.

“Every child should start life healthy, regardless of race or ethnicity,” said Michelle Hughes, executive director of NC Child, a statewide child advocacy organization. “Though we’ve made good long-term progress over the past thirty years, our recent backslide is unacceptable. It’s time to explore new strategies to save babies’ lives.”

NC Child recently released a report showing that closing the health insurance coverage gap could have a profound impact on promoting healthy births in North Carolina. Research shows that healthy women have healthier pregnancies and healthier babies. In fact, 34 percent of infant deaths in 2015 were attributed medical issues that have a direct relationship to the mother’s health before and during pregnancy (22.9 percent to prematurity or low birthweight and 11 percent to maternal complications of pregnancy, labor, and delivery).

Unfortunately, one in five women of reproductive age across the state is uninsured, and more than half of those women earn too little to afford coverage in the Marketplace. Using available federal dollars to close the health insurance coverage gap would provide about 175,000 women of reproductive age with health insurance, which would allow them to get early treatment for chronic conditions that have a negative impact on their babies’ health.

“Healthy births start with healthy moms,” said Hughes “If we want to reduce infant mortality, we need to do a better job providing their mothers with access to health insurance before they get pregnant. The best way to do that is to use available federal dollars to close the health insurance coverage gap.”

The health insurance coverage gap was created when Governor McCrory and the state legislature refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This decision left a coverage gap among people whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid and too low to qualify for federal subsidies.

Despite their refusal to close the health insurance coverage gap, North Carolina lawmakers and state agencies deserve credit for recent funding increases and policy initiatives to prevent infant deaths. Earmarked funding for counties with the highest infant mortality rates, new funding to help women quit smoking before and during their pregnancy, and continued funding for programs like Safe Sleep will help, but are unlikely to have the population-level impact on women’s health that closing the health insurance coverage gap would have.

“We know that promoting healthy births is a priority for our state’s elected officials,” said Hughes. “The most important step they could take towards that goal is closing the health insurance coverage gap. Our babies can’t wait.”

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NC Child advances public policies that improve the lives of North Carolina’s children. We work statewide to ensure that all children are healthy, safe, well-educated, and economically secure by engaging communities, and informing and influencing decision-makers. Visit www.ncchild.org to learn more.

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