NC Child is an advocacy group for children’s health care. It studies families and communities in North Carolina, collecting data about the best health practices. They released a new study that suggests infant mortality rates are closely tied to health insurance.

Laila Bell is the director of research and data at NC Child and said infant mortality is a prominent issue in North Carolina.

“We lose seven babies for every 1000 babies born in this state which is actually higher than our national average,” Bell said.

This research comes in the wake of the general assembly’s decision not to expand Medicaid to families that fall in the health insurance coverage gap. Families with incomes too high for Medicaid, but too low for private health insurance, often fall into this gap, without coverage. Bell said if mothers don’t have proper medical attention, their children can suffer.

“I think the evidence is clear that this infant mortality is a movable issue and we know what works. One of those strategies is making sure women have access to the health insurance that they need before they become pregnant.”

Thirty-one states have already expanded Medicaid coverage, and have seen improvements in infant mortality rates, Bell said. She cited an Oregon study that found vast improvements in the health of newborns.

“We can really link that back to some very key investments that were made around clinical care and interventions that helped babies who were born at-risk live longer.”

Laila Bell spoke with Aaron Keck on WCHL.


One in five North Carolina women of reproductive age, which is between 19 and 40-years-old, are uninsured. And more than half of those women lack access to affordable health care, Bell said, making North Carolina an at-risk state for newborns.

“When we think about our neighboring states, South Carolina, Virginia, or Tennessee, a baby born in North Carolina is less likely to celebrate her first birthday than one born in those neighboring states.”

The research also studied individual counties. Orange County fared better than the state average, but Bell warned that the statistics don’t account for racial and economic disparities.

“What we often know is that those averages can disguise pretty troubling disparities that might mean that women of color may have less access to health care and are less likely to be insured,” Bell said. “In our Hispanic and Latino babies, we actually saw an increase in infant mortality between 2010 and 2014. The infant mortality for white babies stayed about the same during that time.”

Bell said the research emphasizes the need to expand Medicaid and close the health insurance coverage gap. She says by enacting the Affordable Care Act, the state has the opportunity to affect positive change on the lives of North Carolina children.

“What we found in the report is that link between this current policy opportunity and the chance to improve the health of not only the adult population but really the future babies that they can have.”