Congressional trio pushes crib bumper pad ban to reduce infant death rate

August 4, 2015

Policy Update: Congressional trio pushes crib bumper pad ban to reduce infant death rate

By Misti Crane

The Columbus Dispatch 

Monday, August 3, 2015

A bipartisan push to stop the sale of crib bumper pads is on the agenda for a trio of central Ohio lawmakers who say they plan to work at the federal level to curb infant-death rates.

U.S. Reps. Joyce Beatty, Steve Stivers and Pat Tiberi met with Columbus infant-mortality experts at Nationwide Children’s Hospital on Monday and left with a list of changes they say will save babies lives across the United States.

In most cases, they’re aiming for fixes that don’t require a tedious legislative route, but they are not ruling out proposing laws if that’s what it takes, said Beatty, a Jefferson Township Democrat.

Beatty joined Republicans Stivers of Upper Arlington and Tiberi of Genoa Township to review with the members of the media the highlights of the private meeting.

The three already have asked the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission for an update on its review of the suffocation risk posed by bumper pads, and they will keep pushing the issue, they said.

An upcoming meeting with the National Retail Federation could ignite a business-led effort to prioritize safety by promoting safe sleep and not selling items that contribute to deaths, Tiberi said, citing Target Corp. as a good example.

“If we can stop one needless death … we’re going to have some success here,” he said of the group’s priorities for preventing infant deaths nationwide.

Other priorities for the group include:

Changing the rules that govern federally supported programs for home visits with moms and babies — including Help Me Grow in Ohio — to eliminate policies that sometimes keeps families in need from getting services.

Now, for example, when Help Me Grow has a staffing issue and can’t pay for visits to all qualified enrollees, other home-visit agencies aren’t allowed to fill the gap, Stivers said.

“We need more flexible rules from the federal government. We’re sort of tying local jurisdictions’ hands,” he said.

Encouraging the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to change rules that prevent newly pregnant women who are uninsured from signing up for insurance in the federal marketplace outside the normal open-enrollment period.

The government has a list of conditions that allow for special enrollment, including marriage and the birth of a child. Pregnancy is not on that list.

It’s unclear how many women opt out of signing up for health insurance when they leave Medicaid and take a job, and then later become pregnant, but the potential for a gap in care during months critical to a healthy pregnancy and baby is worrisome, the lawmakers said.

Looking for opportunities to tie federal housing dollars to smoke-free multifamily units so that low-income pregnant women and families with babies have a greater opportunity to avoid secondhand smoke.

Stivers said that it’s reasonable to think that it won’t take long to lower Ohio’s infant-mortality rate to 6 deaths per 1,000 from 7.4 (the most-recent number, which reflects deaths in 2013).

Kelli Arthur Hykes, director of public-health policy for Columbus Public Health, said she’s glad to see the three members of Congress prioritizing infant mortality and in particular looking for ways to reduce exposure to smoke.

Research shows that about half of people in multi-unit housing report being exposed to tobacco smoke, and such exposure can lead to premature birth and asthma and lung-development problems in babies.

“This delegation has been really receptive,” Arthur Hykes said.

Liane Egle, who directs the Columbus infant-mortality project called CelebrateOne, said she was impressed that the group left the meeting with concrete action items.

Much of what will save babies in Columbus must be done locally, Egle said, but the decisions that state and federal leaders make and the policies they champion can make a significant difference, she said.

mcrane@dispatch.com

@MistiCrane