Pro-life politicians talk a lot about unborn children. Although those discussions typically arise in the context of abortion policy, and efforts to dissuade women from ending their pregnancies, a new study suggests that there’s a different policy area that GOP lawmakers could be considering. Agreeing to implement Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion could effectively improve the health of babies who haven’t even been born yet.
According to research supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, extending health coverage to additional low-income Americans can end up benefiting their future children years down the line. That’s because that type of coverage expansion can help improve women’s health, which in turn ensures that they have healthier pregnancies — and fetuses’ long-term health outcomes can be influenced by their environment in the womb.
The study authors, who tracked states’ varying levels of expansion of the Medicaid program in the 1980s, found that babies born after their mothers gained Medicaid coverage grew up into healthier adults. They had lower rates of obesity, lower BMI, and fewer preventable hospital visits. Young children whose families gained coverage after they were born also experienced some positive health effects, but to a lesser extent than the babies who benefited from Medicaid expansion while they were still in utero.
Ultimately, the researchers conclude, that will end up driving down health costs in the long term by contributing to a healthier generation.
“Although most research has found that expanding health insurance coverage increases the immediate use of care among beneficiaries, our results highlight that providing health insurance coverage to low-income families during critical periods of development may reduce the need for costly care in the future,” the study authors write. “Our results suggest that public health insurance expansions have benefits that materialize years after their implementation. Furthermore, benefits of the Medicaid expansions may continue to emerge later in life for the cohorts that gained coverage.”
This isn’t the only research that supports these conclusions. Giving women access to a robust social safety net, such as government assistance to help them purchase food, has been proven to improve their future children’s health. So does ensuring they have the support of taxpayer-funded family planning services, which helps them space their pregnancies. Other studies focusing specifically on Medicaid have found that ensuring low-income Americans’ public insurance coverage also helps kids stay in school and keeps struggling families out of financial distress.
Women make up nearly 70 percent of the adults on Medicaid, and limiting their access to that coverage significantly restricts their ability to receive gender-specific health care. According to estimates from Planned Parenthood, if every state agreed to expand their Medicaid programs under Obamacare, 4.6 million low-income women of reproductive age would be able to have health care. Nonetheless, more than 20 GOP-controlled states continue to resist implementing this particular Obamacare provision, a move that’s leaving millions of low-income Americans without any access to affordable insurance whatsoever.