Lawmakers reconsider circumcision for babies on Medicaid

By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

Circumcisions for low-income babies could once again be covered in Colorado after a bill seeking to restore funding moved forward Tuesday in the Senate.

Circumcision has become a polarizing issue in Colorado after the legislature last year voted to make Colorado the 18th state to ban Medicaid funding for the procedure. The state stopped paying for routine circumcisions last July.

Cost is not the primary point of contention. Circumcisions – which cost about $200 to $400 each  – for low-income babies add up to a relatively small tab according to state fiscal analysts: about $195,000 next year and $230,000 the year after that.

Instead, activists on both sides are battling over whether the ancient practice of cutting an infant boy’s foreskin from the head of his penis is healthy. Opponents argue that the procedure is medically unnecessary, and elsewhere in the country, foes are trying to ban it altogether. Supporters believe circumcision should be a personal choice. They say it has health benefits including reduction of urinary tract infections in babies and prevention of HIV and AIDS among adults.

Debate over circumcision taps into deeply held personal and religious beliefs that often spark fights between new parents, medical professionals and lawmakers.

Sen. Joyce Foster, D-Denver, was alarmed to learn last summer that funding for circumcisions had been cut from Colorado’s Medicaid budget last year. So, this year, she introduced Senate Bill 12-90, which would restore the funding.

“It’s a fairness issue. It’s a prevention issue. It’s a social justice issue,” Foster said. “I’ve always cared about low-income people. I’ve worked my whole life in that arena. When a person is on Medicaid and they don’t have the ability to make the same decisions that I do, that’s unfair.”

Foster also happens to be Jewish and her husband is the influential retired Temple Emanuel rabbi, Steven Foster. Ritual male circumcision is a fundamental tradition in Jewish culture.

Foster said her own religious views and those of her husband have nothing to do with her support for Medicaid funding of circumcision. She said traditional Jewish families typically don’t opt for circumcisions in a hospital. Rather a religious leader called a mohel performs the circumcision either at home or in a temple when the baby is about eight days old.

“This bill will have absolutely nothing to do with the Jewish community of Colorado,” she said.

Mohels don’t get reimbursement from Medicaid and Foster said that if a family can’t pay for a religious circumcision, the community helps.

Foster said opponents of circumcision who are seeking to ban the procedure altogether would be abridging religious rights, not only for Jews, but also for others.

“Some people don’t want anybody to have it. That would be an attack not only on Jews, but on Christianity, which is based on Judaism, and on the Muslim community. If their goal is to infringe on my rights, that’s where I take issue,” Foster said.

With respect to babies on Medicaid, Foster said she is most persuaded by the medical evidence.

She said treatment of infant urinary tract infections in Colorado cost about $3.4 million from 2009-2010 when she says 147 baby boys had to be hospitalized. She also cited the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is supporting circumcision in Africa to prevent the spread of HIV.

At an earlier hearing, Gillian Longley, a registered nurse from Louisville, was among those who testified against public funding for circumcision. She described routine circumcision of newborn boys as “elective, non-therapeutic, cosmetic surgery.

“It is neither medically necessary nor cost effective,” Longley said.

Lawmakers in the Senate last week nixed an amendment that would have added funding for Medicaid circumcisions to the budget bill, known as the long bill. But, on Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to move the bill forward. Now it goes to the full Senate; then if it passes, on to the House.


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16 thoughts on “Lawmakers reconsider circumcision for babies on Medicaid

  1. If the prepuce is cut off a girl, we call it mutilation. Why is it different for boys?

    What’s next – taxpayer-funded circumcision for low-income girls?

    Everyone should be able to decide for themselves whether they want parts of their genitals cut off. It’s *their* body.

  2. It seems that Sen. Foster is being disingenuous when she says her religion has nothing to do with her support of Medicaid funding for circumcision. In the March 2 issue of The Jewish Daily Forward the following appears [see :

    “Foster, the main backer of the Colorado bill, said she believes that cutting Medicaid coverage for circumcision sent a message of support to anti-circumcision activists who want see the procedure outlawed nationwide. She is determined to push back against that effort.

    “Ultimately, I think when the anti-circumcision people begin to see so many states denying benefits,” Foster said, “it will be easier for them now to make their case that circumcision should be banned altogether.”

    Read more:

    It thus appears that the purpose or the bill is to protect religious circumcision rather than to promote “fairness” for babies.

  3. WOW really how far will the USA go to make money for doctors or harm their little baby boys, take a look around the rest of the world and see how far behind you are in protecting babies, and hiding behind religion, SHAME on you for consideringthis

  4. Of course cutting penis parts of baby boys is not healthy. It is HARM. Countries with advanced medical knowledge know this.

    Parents need to get the word that this practice is very harmful to the man the baby will become. Why is there so little mention of the fact that the penis parts called the foreskin are as sensitive as the tips of your fingers, your nipples or the lips of your mouth? These “foreskin” parts contain over 3 feet of arteries, veins and capillaries and thousands of nerve endings (above 10,000). Of course it is harm to remove these body parts. The only people that would ever say otherwise are missing the parts. Would you let a color blind person convince you to shut off the color sight of your child? What parent agress to surgery that removes a major part of the human sensory system? Why would we ever help fund that?

    MALE Circumcision is nerve damage cutting off about 20000 fine touch and stretch sensing nerve endings and removing a source of pleasure from the male FOR LIFE. This is 2/3 of the total pleasure source amputated! This is nerves, blood vessels, protective covering and pleasure zones taken away from a human before the human can experience this. The dynamics and function and pleasure from sex and masturbation of the penis is harmed for good.

    Only about 0.5% of males who are left intact at birth end up getting parts opf their penis cut off later in life. That tells you the foreskin parts are not as much of a problem as people make it out to be, and Men LIKE their foreskin parts. Why would we ever consier to pay for people to cut off parts of the body of ANOTHER human, particularly when that ANOTHER HUMAN will LIKE and WANT to keep the body parts??????

  5. As someone currently graduating from a public health program, using this money on circumcision is absurd. Programs for the elderly and disabled are being cut all the time, leaving them without home care aids, podiatry, vision care, dental care, and the list goes on. This is where 200K should go, not toward unnecessary surgery.

    Senator Foster also does not have her facts straight about the true costs of circumcision. Urinary tract infections are much less common in baby boys than baby girls. Of the infections that do occur, the vast majority can be treated with simple antibiotics. Furthermore, UTIs can still occur in circumcised boys. How many of the 147 were circumcised?

    I understand completely Senator Foster’s desire to help the low-income residents of Colorado. However, trying to do so by continuing to subsidize unnecessary surgery is simply perpetuating ignorance. There are many things that Medicaid does not cover that contributes to inequality, and circumcision is simply not one of them.

  6. “Supporters believe circumcision should be a personal choice.” No, it is opponents of infant circumcision who believe it should be a personal choice – the personal choice of the person most directly concerned, the ONLY person directly concerned. Nobody wants to “ban it altogether”, only set an age-restriction, except in cases of pressing medical need.

    By circumcision advocates’ own figures, it would take more than 100 circucmcisions to prevent one urinary tract infection, hundreds to prevent one female-to-male HIV infection (the only kind it is even claimed to have any effect on) in the US. HIV transmission is much more effectively prevented in both directions for both sexes with condoms.

    A Richmond VA pediatrician had to repair 1600 circumcised botched by other doctors in three years, suggesting a complication rate of 13%. The complications that aren’t discovered until adulthood, because they affect sexuality, go uncounted.

  7. A new, evidence-based policy statement on infant male circumcision shows that benefits exceed risks by over 100 to 1, and that up to half of uncircumcised males will suffer a condition that could have been avoided had they been circumcised. As indicated in the article the cost-savings from infant male circumcision are enormous. Please read the new policy, which was published in a peer-reviewed journal, at:

  8. Well quelle surprise, being Jewish has nothing to do with circumcision. Excuse me, her promoting circumcision, no excuse me, an elective procedure that everyone else pays. After all it has nothing to do with the Jewish community where circumcision is seen as good and important. That when funding stopped, this sent a signal that circumcision is not “good” and “Important”. Never mind that the world has spoken by not cutting off its male’s mechanism of sexual communication. Aside of religion, men do not seek circumcision. Don’t force it on babies.

    The BC College of Physicians & Surgeons states:

    “Current understanding of the benefits, risks and potential harm of this procedure, however, no longer supports this practice for prophylactic health benefit. Routine infant male circumcision performed on a healthy infant is now considered a non‐therapeutic and medically unnecessary intervention. Parental preference alone does not justify a non‐therapeutic procedure.

    Circumcision is painful, and puts the patient at risk for complications ranging from minor, as in mild local infections, to more serious such as injury to the penis, meatal stenosis, urinary retention, urinary tract infection and, rarely, even haemorrhage leading to death.

    Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an infant has rights that include security of person, life, freedom and bodily integrity. Routine infant male circumcision is an unnecessary and irreversible procedure.

    This procedure should be delayed to a later date when the child can make his own informed decision.”

    The Royal Dutch Medical Association (the KNMG) has published a ground breaking position paper on non therapeutic male child circumcision which calls for a “powerful policy of deterrence”, if not an outright ban.

    Male circumcision and sexual function in men and women: a survey-based, cross-sectional study in Denmark†

    “Conclusion: Circumcision was associated with frequent orgasm difficulties in Danish men and with a range of frequent sexual difficulties in women, notably orgasm difficulties, dyspareunia and a sense of incomplete sexual needs fulfilment. Thorough examination of these matters in areas where male circumcision is more common is warranted.”

    This is not even worth funding. Further, if funding resumes, this will open the door to sue the state in grand style given the facts known today.

    We are men. Not billboards for your beliefs-religious, stupid, or just pain crazy.

  9. It’s hard to believe that in this climate, any legislature will want to go on record for expansion of government into elective surgery.

    One thing’s for sure; no baby ever asked to be circumcised and no medical association endorses routine circumcision.

  10. Infant circumcision is a violation of the child’s human rights and the doctor’s oath to “first do no harm”. There is absolutely no reason why needless, damaging and very painful surgery should be performed on a helpless infant just because that is what the parents want. It is not their body so it is not their choice. Having Medicaid pay for an inhumane and unnecessary surgery is ridiculous. I pray the Senate sees reason and keeps the funding ban.

  11. (the Jewish women) She said treatment of infant urinary tract infections in Colorado cost about $3.4 million from 2009-2010 when she says 147 baby boys had to be hospitalized.(Complete lie) Well I work for one of these hospitals, I know for a fact if a doctor can make a false diagnosis to profit from it especially when it comes to circumcising an unknowing infant and taking the cash. Seems religiously motivated to me. Medicaid baby boys can grow up to be responsible.

  12. No-one has the right to force their preference upon another’s body, even less so when it is an anatomical part they don’t even posses! How can this silly woman think it is OK to genitally mutilate a boy? Human rights do not only apply to certain issues. Wake up America! Just, WAKE UP!

  13. Human rights also do not apply to one gender only. It is morally wrong to circumcise female babies. It is EQUALLY morally unjust when done to male babies. How is that such a difficult concept to grasp?

  14. This is absolutely outrageous that people can’t get vision or dental care covered by Medicaid but they’re going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars not only on the circumcision itself but for the costs of infections it causes and the revision surgeries children will need. Want to mutilate your child? Do it on your own dollar!

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