Circumcisions will not longer be covered by Medicaid in Colorado beginning in July, according to the Denver Post. Colorado, like 17 other states, is making this move as a money saving measure. However, other reasons such as a decline in the circumcision rate and the lack of medical justification for circumcision may be playing into the decision.
The Associated Press reports that Colorado was looking at all possible avenues to save funds, given their budget shortfall of $1 billion. The move, which has been considered for years, will save $186,500 per year. Sentator Kent Lambert, who was part of the Joint Budget Committee, told the Associated Press that he thinks of the decision being 99% for economic reasons.
No Medical Justification
The Denver Post notes that the decision to stop covering the cost of circumcision is becoming increasingly common. It is a fairly easy decision to make, since there is “virtually no medical justification for the procedure.” Dr. Susan Pharo, the director of Medicaid and External Pediatric Care for Kaiser Permanente told the Denver Post that “the medical reasons are not convincing either way.”
However, in some jurisdictions, the argument goes beyond circumcision simply being medically unnecessary. In San Francisco, for example, a proposal to ban circumcision of minors is likely to make it onto the November ballot. This move, which is intended to protect the bodily integrity rights of children, has created a lot of controversy — Anti-Semitic comics are being used in support of the ban and a coalition of Jews and Muslims has filed a lawsuit to block the ballot measure on the grounds that it infringes on their right to practice their religion.
Declining Circumcision Rate
According to the Denver Post, circumcision is still the most common medical procedure performed on children, with around 75% of men having been circumcized. This rate is higher than in other Western countries, such as Canada (30%) and the United Kingdom (6%). However, the numbers are also dropping. The New York Times reported in 2010 that the rate of circumcisions being performed in hospitals dropped from 56 percent in 2006 to 32.5 percent in 2009.
Not Unanimous Decision
Colorado’s decision to stop funding circumcisions under Medicaid was not unanimous. Democratic Senator Irene Aguilar, who is a primary care doctor at Denver Health, told the Denver Post that the procedure is quite inexpensive to perform. She also expressed concern that the move would “be discriminatory for Jewish and Muslim people on Medicaid.”
San Francisco vs. Colorado – Two Different Issues
Ultimately, it would appear that the issues at play in the Colorado Medicaid decision and the proposed San Francisco ban are different. If circumcision is not medically necessary, then it makes sense that it would not be covered by Medicaid.
In San Francisco, however, where a full ban is proposed, the issue of freedom of religion does come into play. In that case, the question will be whether the human rights argument against circumcision is stronger than the religious freedom argument in support of circumcision. There are, after all, other religious traditions that are banned in the United States for human rights reasons.
Photo credit: Michael Bentley on flickr