Indiana recently announced infant mortality rates are the lowest ever. Some counties like St. Joseph County say it’s too early to note exact changes at the local level, which are evaluated every five years. However, health officials in St. Joe County say focusing on a mother’s access to health care has been key to those results.
Sally Dixon is the fetal infant mortality review coordinator with the St. Joseph County Health Department. She said most of the babies that die in the county, never make it out of the hospital because most are born premature or with other health problems.
In 2018, the no. 1 cause of infant deaths in the county were due to premature births at 63 percent, followed by Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUIDS) at 17 percent.
Dixon said Indiana’s 2015 Medicaid expansion was a step in the right direction to help solve that.
“One of the best ways to reduce infant mortality rate is, increase the health and well-being of women; before pregnancy, during pregnancy and after pregnancy,” she said.
Moms with insurance tend to have greater and more timely access to prenatal care, which Dixon said makes all the difference.
According to a study by Georgetown University, states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act reduced infant mortality by 50 percent more than states that didn’t expand it.
The expansion also helped some states address issues like racial disparities. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health lists African Americans as having 2.3 times the infant mortality rate as their white counterparts.
In St. Joseph County, Black babies are four times more likely to die before their first birthday. The county attributes this to the stress of life as a woman of color, including the stressors of racism, poverty, access to resources and education.
But the county notes that even when income and education are comparable to other groups, the disparity still exists, which they say suggests structural racism and implicit bias are present within their system and also contribute to disparities in infant and maternal health.