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Circumcision Coverage Back on the Table

Several states reexamining their policies on public funding of circumcisions

Hannah Dreyfus
January 21, 2014

A series of academic studies, as well as a revised statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics has encouraged Florida and several other states to reexamine their circumcision policy, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In recent years, the public funding of circumcisions for newborns has been a subject of continued debate. Florida, for example, ended Medicaid coverage for routine circumcisions in 1999 after the AAP issued a statement questioning the utility of the practice. However, in 2012 the AAP released an updated statement concluding that the health benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks.

Setting aside the moral, ethical, and religious questions raised by routine circumcisions for newborns, research buffering the health benefits of the practice make a strong and self-sufficient case. As we reported in June 2012, Eric Goosby, U.S. AIDS coordinator, noted the conclusive health benefits of circumcision:

Studies show that circumcision can dramatically reduce HIV infections. One study in South Africa last year found new infections fell by 76 percent after a circumcision programme was launched in a township.

In 2006, trials in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa found foreskin removal more than halved men’s risk of HIV infection. Longer-term analysis has found the benefit to be even greater than thought, with a risk reduction of around 60 percent.

Perhaps a bigger impetus for a policy reversal is that discontinuing public coverage for the procedure has actually proved financially disadvantageous for states. According to a group of University of Florida Health researchers, costs for circumcisions have more than doubled in the years following the policy change. Families who were denied coverage for their newborns’ circumcisions opted to have the procedure done later in life, a much more costly operation. (Medicaid does cover circumcision for older boys if the procedure is deemed medically necessary.)

In Utah, Medicaid officials recommended restoring circumcision coverage in 2013, though the legislature has yet to act. Efforts have also been made in Colorado, and the issue is under scrutiny in the 16 other states that discontinued coverage after the AAP’s 1999 policy statement. With increasing evidence that providing circumcisions to newborns is a sound financial and health-related decision, more states are likely to reconsider their policies in the next few years.

Hannah Dreyfus is an editorial intern at Tablet.