Budget Cuts Touch a Nerve

Whether baby boys remember the pain of circumcision later in life has long been the subject of debate among medical researchers. But whatever the case, lawmakers in North Carolina won't soon forget their agony over the question of whether to end Medicaid coverage for the procedure.
by | January 2002

Whether baby boys remember the pain of circumcision later in life has long been the subject of debate among medical researchers. But whatever the case, lawmakers in North Carolina won't soon forget their agony over the question of whether to end Medicaid coverage for the procedure.

Facing a $45 million hole in the state's Medicaid budget, the legislature last fall dropped circumcision from the list of procedures the state pays for. The savings from not funding the $200 procedure, which is falling out of favor with some pediatricians and is not covered in a half-dozen other states, was pegged at almost $650,000 over two years.

The state's aggressive anti-circumcision lobby, headed by the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers, cheered the decision. "Medicaid doesn't cover ear piercing or breast augmentation," says Amber Craig, the group's state director. "Why should it cover elective circumcisions?"

Angry constituents, however, flooded lawmakers with complaints. Some contended that circumcision is so common--it is performed on three- quarters of Tarheel boys--that boys from poor families would become the butt of locker-room jokes. Dr. William Hubbard, president of the North Carolina Pediatric Society, says circumcision is a tricky issue. "We don't advocate circumcision as a medical necessity," he says. "But we'd like to see Medicaid families have the same choices as the rest of the population."Meanwhile, NOCIRC and its "intactivist" supporters barraged lawmakers with their own letters, praising the virtues of foreskin.

Startled by all the fuss, the legislature abruptly changed course and voted overwhelmingly to restore funding.