Experts call for eliminating racial disparities in deaths
Eye on infant mortality
LANSING — Michigan isn’t doing enough to address the disproportionally high rate of infant mortality in African American communities, according to a report by the Michigan League for Public Policy.
Past efforts to resolve that disparity haven’t done enough, according to the league, a nonpartisan policy institute that works on economic opportunity issues, and other experts.
“Increasing coverage for perinatal health care is not the fix-all to this issue,” said Dawn Misra, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Michigan State University and an expert on infant mortality among African American women.
“We need to listen to the needs of black women instead of M.D.s and Ph.D.s,” Misra said.
Wayne (10.7%), Saginaw (8.7%) and Ionia (8.7%) counties have the highest infant mortality rates in the state. Livingston (3.4%), Ottawa (4.1%) and Allegan (4.2%) counties have the lowest, Department of Health and Human Services statistics show.
Ninety-one percent of white women in Michigan possess health insurance coverage, 4% higher than African American women. However, black infants are three times more likely to die than white infants, according to the department.
That disparity is greater now than in 1850, 15 years before slavery ended, according to Mothering Justice, a Detroit nonprofit that advocates for mothers.
“The persistent disparity in infant mortality rates between black and white infants is a result of structural racism,” said Jaime Slaughter-Acey, an assistant professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota.
Structural racism contributes to higher rates of infant mortality, ranging from quality of health care to access to healthy foods and differences in socioeconomic status, Slaughter-Acey said.
Misra said two policy changes that would go a long way to address that inequality are income tax credits that would give mothers additional income and extending Medicaid coverage from 60 days to at least a year after childbirth.
Those changes would do more than previous efforts to expand health care for mothers and would be steps in the right direction to helping African American women and babies, Misra said.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed a $37.5 million program — “Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies” — that would extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers and give additional funding for at-home visits for mothers who may be unable to visit a doctor.