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Medicaid a 'marker'

"It's the other factors that make one eligible for Medicaid -- teenage moms, income, lower education status -- all of those are the drivers for infant mortality," he said. "In that respect, Medicaid eligibility simply becomes a marker."

The study's authors recommend expanding Medicaid coverage from the present 133 percent of the poverty level to 175 or 200 percent to provide coverage to working mothers whose employers don't offer insurance.

They also suggest providing insurance through the Children's Health Insurance Program to mothers prior to delivery to cover the cost of their prenatal care.

Alabama's infant mortality rate had been falling since 1998, but health officials announced last year that it rose by 45 in 2005 with 561 baby deaths that year.

Williamson said the 2006 numbers should be released later this month and the department plans to start a long-awaited Infant Mortality Review board in the 2008 fiscal year.

The board will pull together researchers and health professionals to study infant deaths in order to prevent more in the future.

"That really is one of our highest priorities," Williamson said. "It's a long-term fix because what it does is look at all the factors in infant deaths and see how we can intervene in ways we don't currently know we should."



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