For a year now, a commission established by Congress has been looking into the scandalously high infant death rates in the United States. Now it has released its grim findings and a set of recommendations.
Congress, the administration and the private sector would do well to heed them.According to Sen. Lawton Chiles of Florida, a Democrat and chairman of the panel, a child born in Hong Kong or Singapore has a better chance of reaching its first birthday than one born in the United States.
Among industrialized nations, the United States ranks a dismal 19th in the rate of infants who survive their first year.
Technological advances have increased the survival rate for low-birth-weight infants, but this is hugely expensive; neonatal intensive care costs $2.5 billion a year in the U.S. More to the point, that expense is needlessly high.
If mothers receive adequate prenatal care, nutrition and instruction on avoiding behavior that puts their babies at risk, fewer babies will be born prematurely or at dangerously low weights. The number of infants needing long-term care for preventable birth defects will also decrease.
The commission calls for universal access to maternity and infant care, with the private sector accepting chief responsibility for providing this.
Congress is urged to expand the Medicaid program to include more people above the poverty line; federal, state and local governments must streamline the processes by which women can obtain access to prenatal health care.
The cost of preventive programs is modest while their effectiveness is great. Still, if the economic argument isn't powerful enough, the moral one should be.
The infant mortality rate in the U.S. is a national shame that Congress and business should not tolerate a day longer.