Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Florida Healthy Start Coalitions in Danger

Last week, the Florida House Health Care Appropriations Committee recommended eliminating Healthy Start Coalitions and moving services to county health departments effective July 1, 2010. This proposal would completely eliminate Healthy Start Coalitions and shift service dollars and responsibilities to county departments of health. This concerns me as a taxpayer, a mother with potential future pregnancies, and an advocate for quality maternity care.

Why am I concerned as a taxpayer? While the state may save $4 million by cutting Healthy Start, it will lose approximately $32 million per year in additional funds leveraged by Healthy Start Coalitions. Overhead costs of county health departments are nearly 20%--more than twice the average local Coalition. Coalitions reduce barriers to health care and save taxpayers money through effectively promoting healthy outcomes for babies. As private, non-profit organizations, Healthy Start Coalitions ensure cost-effective oversight of services.

Why am I concerned as a mother with potential future pregnancies? Currently, only 42 out of 67 county health departments provide prenatal care. Healthy Start Coalitions have established reliable provider networks to ensure access to care and commitment to healthy outcomes. This network facilitates universal risk screening for pregnant women and infants. This is the foundation for determining the moms and babies most at risk for poor outcomes. Under the Coalitions' current model, contracted prenatal and infant care services take place in both the private and public sector. In 17 counties, care coordination services are provided by the private sector and no longer by contracted county health departments. In 33 counties, MomCare services are provided in-house by Coalitions. County health departments are not equipped to take on this responsibility.

Why am I concerned as an advocate for quality maternity care? Healthy Start Coalition model is a successful one. Healthy Start Coalitions and their universal screening program for pregnant women and newborns are credited with reducing infant mortality by 20% since their inception. That alone should speak volumes to our elected officials.

As a member of Healthy Start, a former recipient of its services, a mother, and an advocate for the rights of Florida's women and babies, I will strongly urge each member of the House Leadership, the House Healthy Care Appropriations Committee, and my local Representative to reconsider this recommendation.

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