Gov. Kasich Promises To Help Low Birth-Weight Babies, Then Slashes The Programs That Help Those Babies

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) unveiled “The Jobs Budget” yesterday — a two year spending proposal that slashes funding for local governments by 25 percent in fiscal 2012, and 50 percent in 2013. Kasich’s callous budget efforts, including his union-busting attack on Ohio collective bargaining rights, have won him boos, tears, and staggering unpopularity within his first three months in office.

But last week in his State of the State address, Kasich touted a “surprise,” promising an initiative to aid low birth-weight babies. Low birth-weight babies face serious health risks and expensive hospital re-admittances. “With a little extra effort, we can make life better for the most vulnerable Ohioans by also giving taxpayers better value,” Kasich said:

Let me tell you what we’re talking about, low birth weight babies face serious health risks. And I know my kids come out at four-two and four-four, my sweet Emma and Reese. But they weren’t the really low birth weight babies because they got to go home. But the ones that have those serious health risks, they incur six times the costs as other babies.[…]

Now, I think we can help these mothers and their babies by staying in touch with them and how about give them the prenatal care they need so that we don’t have more low weight babies born? We can take — we can’t solve it all, but we certainly can solve some of it. And with just a little extra effort, we can make life better for the most vulnerable Ohioans by also giving taxpayers better value and making Medicaid more sustainable.

But Kasich’s budget tells a different story. While reiterating the objective to provide “evidence-based parenting education through the Help Me Grow Program” and “provide safety screenings, parental mental health screenings, and needs-based referrals for 15,000 pregnant women and first-time programs” on one hand, Kasich slashed funding to programs that support this work with the other. He cut the Help Me Grow program — “a program for Ohio’s expectant parents, newborns, infants and toddlers that provide health and developmental services” — by $2.8 million, eliminated operational support for the Mothers and Children and Safety Net Services, and eliminated state funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers like community health centers which are “important providers of prenatal care for many low-income women of all racial and ethnic groups.”

When asked by ThinkProgress, experts at Policy Matters Ohio agreed that Kasich’s proposal didn’t seem to provide support for his low birth weight baby initiative. However, they pointed out that Kasich’s Office of Health Transformation would be addressing the issue via Medicaid reform. An Ohio Health Transformation official confirmed knowledge of Kasich’s initiative, adding that it was not necessarily a “targeted” program but reflective of a more holistic, whole-system approach to preventing low birth weight. When asked by ThinkProgress what defined that approach, he pointed to care coordination and Kasich’s “Health Home Initiative” –funded by “taking advantage of the federal Affordable Care Act provision that allows states to claim a 90 percent federal math for eight quarters (two years).”

Of course, the fact that Kasich simultaneously wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) belies the credibility of this ACA-funded effort. So, not only is Kasich cutting programs that actually battle low birth-weight babies, he’s actively seeking to repeal the main source of funding for his alternative. If Kasich gets his way, his “little extra effort” to help “the most vulnerable Ohioans” will turn out to be very little indeed.