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Ineffective and Unfair

Conservatives Target Preventive Health Care for the Ax

SOURCE: AP/Jacqueline Malonson

Maria Prince feeds her 1-year-old daughter Monica in her home in Crofton, Maryland. Maria receives benefits from Women, Infants and Children, one of the programs slashed in the most recent House Republican plan to cut the federal budget deficit.

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It seems we’ve entered the season of shortsighted thinking. With 50.7 million uninsured Americans, Republicans are on a rampage to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Adding insult to injury, the most recent House Republican plan to cut the federal budget deficit this fiscal year took a scalpel to $10 billion in federal grants that provide health care to indigent women and children, slashing $2 billion in federal funding that is bound to have very expensive consequences.

Funding for community health centers will be cut in half by the Republican cuts. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who was a co-sponsor of the legislation responding to President George W. Bush’s call to expand funding for these centers in 2008, says that “since 2001, additional funding has allowed health centers in more than 750 communities nationwide to provide care to about four million new patients. These centers provide affordable and quality care to at-risk Americans who otherwise might have to do without."

He’s right on the mark. No health care costs will be avoided by cutting this $1 billion out of the budget because the absence of care doesn’t stop you from getting sick. It simply means you get sicker and you turn up at the emergency room or a hospital when your illness has progressed to the point that your care needs are exorbitantly expensive.

On top of this cut to care, which more often than not is the safety-net care for women and children, the proposals would also cut the maternal and child health block grant by 30 percent. This block grant pays for child immunizations and prenatal care for tens of thousands of women and children. It’s obvious that without access to immunizations more will have to be spent to care for kids sick with easily preventable illnesses.

And reducing access to prenatal care is both life-threatening and costly. A preemie baby’s health care costs are 10 times higher than a full-term, healthy-weight child, according to the March of Dimes. The organization estimates that the full lifetime health care costs for these fragile children hit the $17 billion mark. It’s simply penny wise and pound foolish to cut $199 million out of a program that has a proven track record of delivering health to babies and driving down America’s health care costs.

Among the programs slashed is one of the most efficient programs to improve child nutrition: the Women, Infants and Children program run by the Department of Agriculture. This program gives expectant mothers with very small children important tips on how to feed their children healthy meals. And it provides them with coupons to incentivize them to purchase the best foods for their children. Research shows that without this intervention the nutritional intake of these children would be higher in fats, salts, and sugars, according to a recent U.S. Food and Nutrition Services study.

Instead of spending $1,400 a month in extra medical care for an obese child, for just $41 per month this program shifts these young mothers and children into healthy eating patterns, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Clearly, the WIC approach is a useful and relatively cheap way to stem the rising tide of childhood obesity.

An unsurprising but equally shortsighted cut is the complete elimination of family-planning services. If you just listened to their sound bites, you would think these funds could be used for abortions. But we all know that’s not permitted. These federal funds make it possible for uninsured women and men to get access to critical contraceptive services, pregnancy counseling, and tests for sexually transmitted infections, cervical cancer screening, and other critical health screens. Without access to these health care services, the health care needs of these adults will not disappear.

Instead, these adults will end up with unintended pregnancies and preventable health conditions that could have been avoided had they had ready access to commonplace family-planning services and screenings. Indeed, every dollar spent on family-planning services saves taxpayers $4 in Medicaid-funded prenatal, delivery, and postpartum services alone, according to a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute.

The absurdity of these cuts to the block grant, community health care centers, and family-planning services is that none of this funding would be necessary if we had a fully functioning national health care system where every American had access to high-quality care.

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Millions more Americans will lose access to health care as a result of these cuts and as a result more will have to be spent to address the real health care consequences of these cuts. Franklin also invented bifocals so his aging colleagues could see the important documents they gathered to draft. Perhaps the Republican leadership needs to adjust their glasses so they more clearly see that $2 billion in cuts they propose to the health care services for poor women and children will cost the taxpayers billions more in unnecessary health care expenses.

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Donna Cooper is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

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