As a neonatologist at Toledo Children’s Hospital, Dr. Patrick Ethington sees the effects of prenatal substance abuse every day.
Sadly, the infants born with smaller than average heads, low birth weights, heart defects, irritability, and tremors statistically have a much greater chance of growing into adolescents arrested for crimes and adults behind bars.
Dr. Ethington on Thursday joined Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp, Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates, and Cyndy Rees, state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids in calling on the Ohio legislature to expand Medicaid coverage.
They contend that women who have Medicaid coverage and can see a physician regularly have a far greater chance of giving birth to healthy babies.
Dr. Ethington referenced a study of adults and adolescents with fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects: 87 percent of adults had been arrested, charged, and convicted of at least one crime, while 36 percent of adults and adolescents had been incarcerated.
“To summarize, fetal alcohol syndrome is bad,” Dr. Ethington said. “It causes a lot of acute medical problems in the newborn that parlay into problems with adult behavior and societal dysfunction.”
Ms. Rees said more than 150,000 women in Ohio between the ages of 19 and 44 would become Medicaid eligible if coverage were extended.
Some 40,000 children also likely would be enrolled as well. The cost, she said, would be borne by the federal government with tax dollars that will go to other states if Ohio does not use them.
While Republican Gov. John Kasich proposed extending Medicaid in his budget, the measure was excluded in the House budget. On Wednesday, State Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township) introduced a bill that would direct the state director of Medicaid to expand income eligibility to those earning up to 38 percent over the poverty level.
Mrs. Bates said she would much rather see her tax dollars used on health care now rather than prosecution and incarceration later.
Sheriff Tharp said nearly every inmate in the county jail is being held for crimes that relate to drug and alcohol abuse.
“Mrs. Bates said it well, pay now or pay later but we’re going to be paying,” he said.