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House Committee Hears Circumcision Bill

Jon Ovington

Today a house committee considered a bill that would prohibit Medicaid from funding circumcisions of newborn baby boys.

Bedford Republican Keith Murphy sponsored this bill. He firmly believes circumcision is dangerous – potentially, very dangerous.

"One hundred and seventeen children a year, on average, die from circumcision complications. In fact it’s one of the leading causes of neonatal male deaths," says Murphy.

Medical experts are highly skeptical of that number, which comes from a report by an anti-circumcision advocate. For the only year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked this data in 2010, there were no deaths from circumcisions.

Still, Murphy says New Hampshire should join the 18 states that have cut Medicaid payments for what he calls an elective procedure – including California, Florida and Maine. Circumcisions cost New Hampshire's Medicaid program about $212,000 every year.

But anti-circumcision activists didn’t talk much about the financial bottom line.

Ronald Goldman, Director of the Boston-based Circumcision Resource Center, painted a dark picture of circumcision’s impact on the male psyche.

"Anger, a sense of loss, sadness, and sexual anxieties....A recent study found a connection between circumcision and the risk of autism," said Goldman.

The bill’s opponents disputed these claims. A rabbi also warned it would discriminate against low-income Jews. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, meanwhile, countered circumcision carries public health benefits, including lowered risk of urinary tract infections and some sexually transmitted diseases.

Jay Smith, a retired family physician, spoke on behalf of the New Hampshire Public Health Association.

"Basically, I think we just feel that it’s bad public policy to remove a procedure from Medicaid that is still approved for other insurance," said Smith.

If passed, it’s worth noting this bill could impact a lot of people. The latest data from 2010 found Medicaid paid for nearly 30 percent of the babies born in New Hampshire.

Before joining NHPR in August 2014, Jack was a freelance writer and radio reporter. His work aired on NPR, BBC, Marketplace and 99% Invisible, and he wrote for the Christian Science Monitor and Northern Woodlands.
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