Maternal and Family Health in the 2016 Election

Illustration by Diane Kim

Illustration by Diane Kim

Healthcare, particularly with regard to family and child benefits, is one of the most controversial topics being discussed in this upcoming election cycle. The United States is the only developed country in the world without paid parental leave laws of any kind, but the responsibility to update this and other aspects of the United States’ healthcare policy belongs to our future president. Considering that only 12 percent of American private sector workers are offered paid family leave through their employers, it is crucial that the American government formulate some sort of plan to ensure healthcare for those who cannot rely on their employers.

Hillary Clinton’s website details her proposed policy updates: up to twelve weeks of paid family and medical leave for a new child or a seriously ill family member, as well as up to twelve weeks for an individual to recover from a serious illness or injury of their own. While on leave, Clinton promises that individuals will continue to earn at least two-thirds of their current earnings. Instead of having businesses fund this plan, Clinton will tax the wealthy, although she does not specify the type of tax or define who qualifies as wealthy. She also intends to fix the “family glitch” which leaves some families unable to access Obamacare marketplace subsidies, even if the cost of enrolling family members in an employer-sponsored program is prohibitive.

Trump, though on the opposite side of the political spectrum, does ultimately promise to “broaden healthcare access, make healthcare more affordable and improve the quality of the care available to all Americans.” However, the health care policy listed on his official website neglects to mention anything about maternal, child, or family healthcare, apart from noting that programs which grow the economy and bring capital back to America are needed to reduce the number of individuals needing access to the government-funded Children’s Health Insurance Program. His recently unveiled policy in a press conference includes six weeks of paid maternity leave funded by eliminating unemployment insurance fraud, but his policy has been criticized by parental leave advocates who see the six weeks as “an insufficient amount of time for a new mother to recover, let alone bond with an infant,” according to Claire O’Connor of Forbes. Trump has also faced criticism for his focus on maternity specifically, as opposed to paid health care across all genders, since the emphasis on maternity excludes adoptive parents, men in homosexual or heterosexual relationships, and other groups.

St. Louis’s own Maternal, Child, and Family Health Coalition (MCFHC) believes that the results of the upcoming election will play an integral role in future legislation passed regarding family health care. Kendra Copanas of the MCFHC states, however, that the work on health reform will not be done regardless of the election results, as “none of the proposals go far enough to adequately turn the curve on equity in health outcomes for women and children.” The MCFHC points to several other specific reforms that need to be made. For instance, Copanas mentions that “in Missouri, low income women do not qualify for health coverage until they are pregnant and they lose Medicaid for Pregnant Woman coverage 60 days after delivery.”

Apart from the candidates’ policies in the general election, the introduction of the Third Amendment means that the American people have another way to directly voice their concerns and influence the health care system. The Third Amendment would allow Missouri to receive $300 million each year in guaranteed funding through increased tobacco taxes, which would go towards improving outreach, such as with smoking cessation programs for pregnant women or by improving childhood education, areas in which Missouri lags far behind the rest of the nation. According to Copanas, Amendment III is “the best opportunity we have in Missouri to expand investment in early childhood health and education which research shows will lead to improved school readiness, school achievement, and health into adulthood.”

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