When I moved to Massachusetts in eight years ago Mitt Romney was governor. Around that that time the state's Department of Public Health was revising its hospital regulations for perinatal care.
One of the proposed regulations would have eliminated the practice of formula marketing at hospitals through the formula "gift bags." These bags have been shown in numerous studies to reduce breastfeeding rates.
The public health council approved the restriction, making Massachusetts the first state to effectively "ban the bags" from hospitals.
Then, as a few blogs have been posting recently, the Governor took the unusual step of ensuring that the regulation was reversed. Here's what happened, according to the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition press release:
In a setback for Massachusetts families, the Public Health Council allowed hospitals to continue participating in formula company marketing campaigns. The decision comes in the wake of an eleventh-hour shakeup in which Gov. Romney replaced three Council members who supported marketing restrictions just before the Council’s scheduled meeting today...
Romney had initially overturned a regulation in February, arguing that limits on marketing gimmicks in hospitals forced mothers to breastfeed. In fact, the regulation would have protected all new mothers from aggressive marketing tactics that use hospitals to endorse high-priced brand-name formula.
"There's overwhelming scientific evidence that breastfeeding is good for mothers and babies," says Dr. Alison Stuebe, a Boston obstetrician. "Despite unanimous recommendations to him from physicians and public health advocates, Romney has dismissed the facts, putting corporate profits above public health. Now, doctors, nurses and hospital administrators have an opportunity to show Massachusetts families that their expert opinion is not for sale. Formula marketing campaigns targeting new mothers do not belong in our state's hospitals. Hospitals should market health, and nothing else."
Public discussion about the proposed ban is already changing practice. Since the initial regulation passed on December 20, four Massachusetts hospitals have chosen to protect the doctor-patient relationship from corporate influence, removing the bags from their maternity wards, bringing the total to 11 of the states 52 maternity hospitals and birth centers, including three who serve the lowest-income patients.
Romney has been increasingly isolated in his stance: he received letters opposing the hospital distribution of commercial bags from regional chapters of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as well as from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, the American Public Health Association, and the Massachusetts Public Health Association. These letters join statements from the US Surgeon General, the Government Accountability Office, the Massachusetts Medical Society, and the World Health Organization, who all oppose this marketing practice.
Why would the Governor take such an interest in this relatively small change? The Coalition later pointed out an association between the action and a piece of news announced shortly after the demise of the ban:
Why did Romney go to such extreme measures to make sure women got their bags? We will never know for sure, but 10 days after he quashed the ban in May 2006, he proudly announced a $660 million deal with Bristol-Myers Squibb, the nation's largest formula maker, to build a pharmaceutical plant in Massachusetts.
It's worth noting that those same perinatal regulations, when finally passed, did impose a new requirement (and the only one of which I'm aware) that hospitals provide lactation consultant support to new moms.
Want more background about this issue? Check out this podcast interview I did with Dr. Alison Steube on the topic.