The need for the NEWBORN Act

The United States ranks 30th in the world in infant mortality incidents and, while there are many causes for infant mortality, the lack of access to quality, affordable and comprehensive healthcare is a significant part of the problem. In 2005, 68.6 percent of all infant deaths occurred to preterm infants, up from 65.6 percent in 2000. 

Adequate prenatal care has a positive effect on the health of the baby, and is one of the most important interventions for ensuring the health of pregnant women and their infants. In fact, babies born to mothers who received no prenatal care are three times more likely to be born at low birth weight, and five times more likely to die, than those whose mothers received prenatal care, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The bottom line is that that the infant mortality rate of a nation is an important indicator of that nation’s overall health. It is an issue that sweeps from urban to rural communities across our entire country, but the statistics in my district are particularly troubling.

The infant mortality rate in Tennessee’s 9th district is the highest in the U.S. and five times the national average at 6.86 deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2005, one Memphis ZIP code had an infant mortality rate that was deadlier for babies than the countries of Vietnam, Iran and El Salvador.

We must do more to make sure that women have the resources they need to deliver healthy babies — and that starts by improving access to health clinics and recruiting the best and brightest medical students to be inner city doctors. At the same time, we need a much more expanded outreach, education and research program. My legislation, the Nationally Enhancing the Wellbeing of Babies through Outreach and Research Now (NEWBORN) Act, is intended to lay the foundation for that effort.

I’m particularly pleased that H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for Americans Act that passed the House, includes the NEWBORN Act.  The proposal will create a national pilot program in cities with the highest rates of infant mortality that focuses on providing pre-natal care and community outreach, and educating at-risk and potential mothers about pregnancy and infant mortality. Statistics will be gathered by the HHS to help lead to a better understanding of infant mortality.

In September, the House of Representatives unanimously went on record to pass a resolution calling for a greater national commitment to fight infant mortality. I commend the HHS Office of Minority Health for its outreach efforts to end the racial disparities related to socioeconomic status that impede access to pre-natal medical care and education.

Infant mortality is preventable, but only if we make the issue a national priority. The NEWBORN Act will give us the tools and resources we need to make that happen.

Cohen is a member of the House Judiciary Committee.