Tallahassee Democrat 05/13/2012, Page C03
My View -- Ann Davis
Today, we celebrate the dedication and strength of mothers throughout Florida.
As we honor these amazing women, we need to also recognize one of the most important challenges facing new and expecting mothers — access to health care — and the people and programs working to address these challenges.
In an average week in Florida, 4,599 babies are born — 633 are born preterm, and 399 are born with a low birthweight (less than 5½ pounds).
Babies born prematurely often spend their first weeks or even months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and face potential lifelong challenges, such as learning disabilities, chronic lung disease and vision and hearing problems. The average medical costs for a preterm baby are more than 10 times higher than those of a healthy fullterm baby.
Prenatal care is one of the most significant ways a woman can lower her risk of giving birth to a baby who is born preterm or with a low birthweight.
Research shows women who receive prenatal care services beginning in their first trimester have significantly better birth outcomes, and this care is critical for early identification of potential medical issues and other risk factors for infants.
Florida’s Healthy Start Coalitions have provided counseling, education, risk-reduction and case management services since 1991, when the state Legislature saw the need to promote healthy child development and address Florida’s prematurity and infant mortality rates. Last year, Healthy Start Coalitions served 210,237 women and infants in Healthy Start and 236,166 women in MomCare. Services provided by Healthy Start include prenatal and infant risk screening, care coordination, mental health and substance abuse counseling, childbirth and parent education. The coalitions also provide resources such as prenatal care kits, cribs, diapers and much more.
This year, Florida legislators and Gov. Rick Scott funded Healthy Start Coalitions again, and partial funding of $3.2 million from last year’s budget cut was also restored.
This allowed the state’s 32 Healthy Start Coalitions to provide care to an additional 22,600 women and infants.
We applaud our elected officials’ commitment to ensuring that more women have access to the services that will give their babies the best chance at a healthy start.
The Florida Legislature also supported early access to health care by safeguarding Healthy Start’s MomCare services during the upcoming expansion of Medicaid reform. MomCare serves to counsel pregnant women on their medical benefits and provider options, and assists with scheduling prenatal care and obtaining health care coverage for newborn infants and linking them to other services such as transportation and community resources. More than a million women have been served by MomCare since its inception. Healthy Start will continue to help thousands more as those covered by Medicaid are moved to managed care.
We thank the Florida Legislature and Gov. Scott for recognizing the important role that Florida’s Healthy Start Coalitions play in the lives of moms and their babies.
Helping a healthy mom deliver a healthy baby is one of the best Mother’s Day gifts we can give this year.