During the last legislative session, the Idaho Freedom Foundation helped convince a House committee not to extend the Maternal Mortality Review Committee. This was only possible because the original bill creating the board in 2019 included a three-year sunset provision, which expired at the end of June.
Local media predictably lamented the expiration. “Idaho is the only state in the country without a maternal review committee,” wrote KTVB. “The rate of pregnancy-related deaths in Idaho remains high,” was the narrative at Boise Public Radio. “Pregnancy in Idaho has never been more dangerous than now,” was the headline in an editorial at the Magic Valley Times.
If you dig into the numbers, you find that 42 pregnant women died between 2018 and 2021, the time period studied by the review board. That is approximately ten deaths per year, out of tens of thousands of live births. Any death is a tragedy, of course, but the idea that they could be prevented by a taxpayer-funded advisory board is absurd. The committee’s recommendations mostly boiled down to expanding Medicaid to more pregnant women as well as providing other government programs.
IFF’s legislative affairs director Fred Birnbaum testified against a bill that would have removed the sunset clause, pointing out that most of the women who died were already enrolled in Medicaid. He explained how this committee was essentially designed to grow government rather than save lives. "You know the old saying 'All roads lead to Rome?' Well, all government-created committees lead to the call for more government spending,” Birnbaum said.
The committee itself admitted that its purpose was not to provide specific solutions, which means existing data is probably sufficient to understand what is causing maternal deaths in Idaho.
A new study by the University of Washington on maternal mortality rates demonstrates how pointless the review committee was. If the committee is so narrowly focused that they cannot even recommend solutions and other institutions are already studying the issue, then what is the point of another government program? It seems like its only purpose was to create an illusion that the government was “doing something.”
That is exactly the sort of government program we can do without.
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