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Op-ed: Hatch should close out career by reauthorizing home visiting program

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In his four decades in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Orrin Hatch has worked tirelessly to improve the lives not only of Utahns but of Americans as well.

As he winds down his remarkable tenure, Hatch has a golden opportunity to add one final, shining achievement to his legacy.

But let me back up a moment. As Hatch touched upon in his Deseret News retrospective last month, his career already includes a long list of highlights. His impressive accomplishments range from protecting religious freedom to making generic medication more affordable to leading his party in passing a sweeping tax reform bill to overseeing the recent renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

That last one particularly resonated with me. I, too, spent four decades in professions impacted every day by CHIP — academic medicine, hospital management and health care services. My work in the health care industry made me especially pleased to see CHIP reauthorized for six more years.

Hatch was one of the original architects of CHIP. In a moment of historic bipartisan legislative success, he and Sen. Ted Kennedy crafted this legislation in 1994 to ensure working American families would not struggle to find coverage for their children.

That’s all part of Hatch’s legacy, but legacies aren’t defined solely by how many lines they generate on a resume. They’re also defined by how one’s good works leave a lasting impact long after a career is over.

On that front, Hatch can further cement the enduring effects of his legacy by spearheading the reauthorization of the Maternal, Infant, Early Childhood Home Visiting Act.

MIECHV is an evidence-based program that pairs trained professionals with at-risk parents to help coach them on raising kids in the earliest and some of the most consequential years. Home visits by these professionals help parents learn the skills necessary to care for and raise children. Like CHIP, MIECHV provides an essential support for American families. This support is absolutely crucial, especially for young, first-time parents.

Voluntary home visiting programs provide help to parents during an incredibly important time, from pregnancy through the first few years of the child’s life. The evidence highlights and confirms the positive impact these programs can have in creating more stable, loving homes. A recent report from Council for a Strong America emphasized research showing that a home visiting program called Every Child Succeeds cut infant mortality rates by 60 percent. Another study showed that a program known as the Nurse-Family Partnership reduced child abuse by half.

Research shows that parents’ actions and health habits during this make-or-break period can have a significant effect — for better or worse — on the self-control, confidence and other mental traits of the child. That makes sense because early childhood is a time in which the brain develops rapidly, with over 1 million new neural connections forming every second.

Despite its potential to help two generations live better lives, MIECHV has now expired. Like CHIP, its reauthorization deadline was Sept. 30. Unlike CHIP, it hasn’t yet been revived.

If that funding isn’t restored, hundreds of at-risk families in Utah won’t be able to reap the potential benefits of evidence-based home visiting programs. And the more time that passes without funding, the more potential damage may be done to those families. Hatch can lead his colleagues in reauthorizing MIECHV and leave Washington knowing his legacy as a master legislator and public servant is firmly in place.

What’s more, he can close out his career secure in the knowledge that future generations of Utahns — and Americans — will continue to benefit from the laws he fought so hard to pass.

C. E. “Mickey” Bilbrey is the former president and CEO of University Health System, Inc. in Tennessee; the retired president and CEO of Quorum Health Resources, LLC.; and a member of ReadyNation.