State should fully fund Healthy Start
Citrus County Chronicle
THE ISSUE: Healthy Start program in danger of a major funding cut.
OUR OPINION: Legislators need to fully fund this program, for the health of babies and whole communities.
Florida has been in the crosshairs lately, so it’s nice to hear when the state is doing something right. In this case, it’s Florida’s progress in lowering the infant mortality rate by 35 percent, due largely to the efforts of Healthy Start coalitions statewide. But advocates warn that Healthy Start is on the chopping block in this year’s state legislative session, and could lose some 30 percent of its funding.
The Healthy Start program is budgeted through the Florida Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration. It works through Healthy Start coalitions statewide, which contract with local agencies for services. Citrus County belongs to the Central Healthy Start coalition, and the county health department provides services.
Healthy Start is a voluntary program whose goal is to reduce infant mortality, reduce the number of low-birth-weight babies, and improve health and developmental outcomes. The health department works with health care providers countywide to implement a universal screening tool to identify pregnant women and infants at risk for adverse health outcomes.
Program services are free to pregnant women and children up to age 3, and are based on need, not income. They include education and support in childbirth, breastfeeding, parenting, tobacco cessation, counseling and women’s health.
Healthy Start is being targeted in the Florida Senate for a major funding cut. At this time, there’s no companion bill in the state House, but as the Legislature heads toward the end of session, the horse trading will start in earnest. In other words, don’t take anything for granted. The Senate bill would cut some $8.9 million, but the net affect with the federal match would be a $19 million loss to Healthy Start. If such a major funding cut is enacted, essential services for high-risk women and babies will suffer.
Citrus County’s infant mortality rate, according to the most recent state statistics, is 8.5 per 1,000 live births. That’s better than Levy and Marion County rates, but worse than the state rate of 6.1. The Healthy Start program is developing a new care delivery structure to increase its impact for the highest- risk mothers and infants — something that won’t happen if it loses 30 percent of its budget.
Among the many deserving state-funded programs, Healthy Start stands out as one that benefits an important segment of our population now, and offers a very high return on investment in medical care savings and babies who start life with healthy advantages. It should be fully funded.