Wisconsin should stop collecting birth costs from men who father children with unmarried women on Medicaid because some women, fearing harm from the men, avoid prenatal care, a new report says.
The report released Monday by ABC for Health, a nonprofit law firm in Madison, says Wisconsin collected nearly $19 million in birth costs in 2010, the most among 10 states that recover the money.
The longstanding practice could contribute to the state’s high black infant mortality rate, said Bobby Peterson, executive director of ABC for Health.
“This puts an enormous amount of pressure on mostly young, single women; many are minorities,” Peterson said. “We should be promoting healthy births and healthy babies.”
Pregnant women applying for Medicaid must identify the father or risk losing state health coverage after the baby is born, the report says. The state requires a man who fathers a child with an unmarried woman on Medicaid to pay some of the costs for pregnancy care and birth.
An exemption for women who fear physical or emotional harm “is poorly understood and rarely used,” the report says. Having to identify the father “may discourage unmarried pregnant mothers from getting timely prenatal care services.”
The policy also takes money from needy families and encourages child support agencies to be aggressive with collections because the agencies keep 15 percent of the money, the report says.
Beth Kaplan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health Services, said Medicaid enrollees must cooperate with child support agencies in seeking support from parents outside of the home.
“Cooperation includes taking reasonable steps to assist in establishing paternity for the child,” Kaplan said.
ABC for Health released the report at its annual HealthWatch Wisconsin conference, which featured discussions about BadgerCare and other Medicaid programs.
Dennis Smith, state health services secretary, said the state dropped plans to increase premiums for some children in BadgerCare as part of $554 million in cuts over two years. The state is negotiating with the federal government to boost premiums for some adults and make other changes.
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, and Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, are expected Tuesday to unveil the BadgerCare Protection Act. It would repeal parts of a law last year that enabled Smith to make some of the proposed cuts.