This supplemental bill gravely endangers infant health and Michigan's future

Mar 13, 2014

Well, yesterday the legislature approved a budget supplemental bill that includes more than two hundred million dollars in new money to fix the roads, and the politicians are congratulating themselves.

Governor Snyder issued a press release praising this, and congratulating the legislature on “working together” and creating the “positive relationship” needed to pass this bill.

Now if you think about it, what he said sounds pretty bizarre. Working together? Positive relationship? That’s the kind of language you use when two nations sign a trade agreement.

These are the two houses in our state’s legislature. Their job is to work together for our good. And you’d think a “positive relationship” should be a piece of cake, since they are both controlled by Republicans. But in fact, there isn’t all that much positive in this bill. The road funding, while necessary, doesn’t address the major problem, and it isn’t clear whether this money will be allocated fairly.

But the real scandal is this bill gravely endangers both infant health and our state’s future, and almost nobody is talking about it.

But the real scandal is this bill gravely endangers both infant health and our state's future, and almost nobody is talking about it.

Michigan is worse than most states in the nation in terms of infant mortality, which is a disgrace. We aren’t talking about a Detroit problem. Several small rural counties have some of the worst rates. Fortunately, we have a little-known jewel fighting this problem not only here, but nationwide: The National Institute of Health’s Perinatology Research Branch, at Detroit’s Hutzel Hospital.

Most people have probably never heard of it, but it is a very big deal. It was brought to my attention by former congressman and State Senator Joe Schwarz, one of the few people who knows politics and who knows science. This is the NIH’s only center of its kind for endangered mothers and their babies.

They’ve discovered a gel here that can dramatically reduce premature births. In one of our state’s genuinely shining triumphs, the government last year selected Hutzel and Wayne State University to receive a massive contract to continue this work. If there was ever a project of the sort our state desperately needs for the future, it is this.

But last night Schwarz told me that the supplemental bill cut Hutzel’s funding, which had been less than seven million, in half. That throws away a lot more money, since Washington puts up two dollars for every one Michigan spends.

What the lawmakers did clearly endangers prenatal health. But it also may endanger our state’s ability to keep this center in the future, and makes Michigan look even more like a rusting anachronism full of ignorant yahoos.

Schwarz, himself a doctor, said “I fear that few members of the legislature know if, and almost none understand … what it does, what a jewel it is,” and how hard Wayne State works to keep it.

But prestige aside, he wrote an op-ed piece in his hometown newspaper last week, in which he said, “the fact that more Michigan babies die before their first birthdays has deep implications.Surely there is no greater return on investment than saving the lives of Michigan women and their babies.”

Tragically, the people we send to Lansing these days don’t seem to think so.   

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.