The State of Wisconsin is being challenged on their policy of requiring unmarried pregnant women to identify the father of the baby in order to receive Medicaid benefits. Once the alleged fathers are identified, the State of Wisconsin requires them to pay for the birth costs. But here’s the controversy: Wisconsin collected $19 million dollars in 2010 which is the most money earned among the 10 states that use this policy.
ABC for Health, a nonprofit Wisconsin law firm is challenging that policy stating that the longstanding practice could contribute to the state’s high black infant mortality rate. Why? Because, according to ABC, having to identify the father “may discourage unmarried pregnant mothers from getting timely prenatal care services.” The State of Wisconsin encourages collection agencies to be aggressive because it keeps 15 percent of the money.
While the altruism of ABC is admirable, its logic is completely off-base. Based on my 25 years of clinical experience working with Medicaid patients, I can assure you that late prenatal care is not based on fear of repercussions for identifying paternity. A delay in obtaining prenatal care for most women involves waiting for their insurance benefits to begin. Or not wanting to take time off from work to keep prenatal appointments. Or using poor judgment and waiting until the last possible minute to show up for prenatal care because they didn’t have any significant problems with their previous pregnancy. Please do not use infant mortality as an excuse to keep fathers for assuming their financial responsibilities. It’s like comparing apples with oranges. While it’s unfortunate that the State of Wisconsin receives what could only be described as a “commission” for obtaining payments from expectant dads, those payments provide necessary funds to a cash-strapped state funded program. Conversely, the State of Wisconsin should not abuse the system by committing extortion.
If a woman is reluctant to divulge the name of the father of her baby, please don’t eliminate her Medicaid benefit. Dig deeper and find out why.