People can be sloppy with their research and their journalism all they want. When it leads to policy conclusions that are either ineffective or outright destructive, that sloppiness becomes everybody's matter. Mine, yours and everyone else's, because that is when it usually starts costing taxpayers a lot of money.
The latest addition to a growing list of sloppiness in pursuit of your tax dollars appeared in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (WTE), Thursday Nov. 15, print edition:
As premature birth rates continue to rise in Laramie County and nationwide, Wyoming's numbers have steadily fallen in recent years. The state's rate fell from 9.5 percent in 2016 to 8.9 percent in 2017, earning a "B" on the 2018 March of Dimes report card.
The article is a set-up for the budget talks during the 2019 legislative session. Let us get to that in a moment; first, the sloppiness. Reports the WTE:
Wyoming's numbers are on par with neighboring states, and Laramie County is sitll seeing fewer cases than many other counties, including Campbell, Fremont and Natrona - all of which also saw n uptick last year. Some risk factors for premature delivery include tobacco use, substance abuse and short time between pregnancies.
However, those risk factors do not apply to everyone. Experts, the article say without explaining who those experts are, have found that women of ethnic and racial minorities have a higher risk of giving premature birth. This is then explained by March of Dimes with a variable that is entirely unique to those women:
"What we have found is that chronic stress plays a major role for women of color, and much of that is often due to systemic racism," said Nicole Wong, a March of Dimes manager in Denver.
In other words, March of Dimes claims that minority women do not give premature birth because of higher use of tobacco or other unhealthy substances, nor do they have shorter time between pregnancies. No, the cause is racism.
I would be the first to accept racism as an explanatory factor if March of Dimes presented evidence to back up their claim. Unfortunately, there is no research report on the March of Dimes website that even mentions racism as a cause of premature births. Not one.
To suggest that minority women have a higher rate of premature birth because of racism is to suggest that white people subject those women to racism. Fine - make claims of racism all you want. But when those claims are used in a context where someone is asking taxpayers for more money, those who cry racism better darn well show some evidence. Higher taxes, namely, are harmful to all of us, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, political beliefs or favorite football team. (Go Broncos.)
If anyone is willing to inflict that damage on all of us in the name of reducing premature births, they better make the case that it is worth the reduced employment, stifled income growth and lost career and entrepreneurial opportunities that follow in the footsteps of higher taxes.
The Wyoming Tribune Eagle, of course, does not bother to make this case, let alone ask the March of Dimes representatives to produce any evidence to back up their claims of racism. Instead, the paper gladly perpetuates the speculation:
If racism-related stress does, in fact, play a role, ti's not surprising Wyoming's rates are below the national average: whites make up roughly 90 percent of the state's population.
Or could it be that Wyoming women expose themselves to a lesser degree to the risk factors - actual risk factors - behind premature birth? Is it possible that substance abuse and unprotected pregnancies are a bit less common here? It would be interesting to hear the WTE's answers to these questions.
Then we get to the programmatic part of the WTE article. There are, the paper says, even more variables that "may" affect the rate of premature births:
While demographics may contribute to the fluctuation, access to care, education, population and social determinants specific to that area may also play a role.
The term "may" is a buzz word. It means that the authors of the report over at March of Dimes have absolutely no evidence whatsoever as to what role these variables play - if any at all. They have no more evidence that "access to education" affects premature births any more than racism does. Or less. Or at all. The only variables that the March of Dimes know affect premature births are substance abuse and short time between pregnancies.
How do we know this? Because they did not prefix those variables with "may". They conclusively said that drugs and frequent pregnancies elevate the risk for the baby.
So why would the March of Dimes then talk about variables that are of no consequence to premature births?
Simple: ideology. The last set of "may"-prefixed variables - access to care, education and social determinants - all have public policy implications. They suggest that we need to expand the welfare state in order to reduce the number of premature births. The equally speculative reference to racism is also aimed at expanding government: the underlying implication is that we need more money for programs that combat racism, even though - again - the March of Dimes does not do research on racism, or even refer to any studies linking racism to premature births.
After the WTE has trumped up the speculative part of the March of Dimes report (or what the WTE wants that report to say) they start detailing what government does for mothers around the state, such as the Wyoming Women and Infant Program under the Department of Health. The paper also carefully notes that Wyoming does not have a Level 3 intensive care unit for babies. But, they notice, "the state Health Department will continue to collaborate with local health departments and facilities."
Expect references to this article by lobbyists and advocates of socialized medicine in the next few weeks, as the legislature starts talking about the 2019 supplementary budget bill. At no point is there any mention of the fact that Wyoming has a more expensive health care system precisely because we have already almost socialized it, both on the insurance side and on the health care side. Like all socialized, or semi-socialized systems, the outcome is poorer health care at a higher cost.
Yes, the only way socialized-health countries keep their costs down is by denying people access to care. Health care costs, and that is why it is more expensive in the United States than in other countries: we actually try our best to make sure that people do get the health care they need.
If someone can prove that some women give premature birth due to racism, then by all means, let us all pool together and end the racist practices in question. But until such evidence is at hand, and until there is equally conclusive evidence that "social determinants" (whatever those are) cause premature births, we should treat this phenomenon as an individualized problem that requires individualized solutions. Those factors, again, that the March of Dimes report actually tie to the problem are substance abuse and short time span between pregnancies.
Beyond that, we should all work to untie the socialized grip on health insurance and health care here in Wyoming. That is the only way we can improve health outcomes for everyone, babies included.