(LEX 18) — A group of Democratic women lawmakers wants the Kentucky legislature to address the state's maternal mortality problem and help make pregnancy, birth and the post-partum experience safer in Kentucky.
The House Democratic Women's Caucus launched their legislative plan to do all of this. It's called the "Kentucky Maternal and Infant Health Project," and it features 21 different bills that focus on five key topics: care for families, health equity, access to care, mental health, and incarceration.
"Healthy babies demand parents who are thriving - especially the moms," said Rep. Pamela Stevenson. "If the moms are not thriving, it's real hard to imagine how they can take care of a child who needs everything from that mom."
"Kentucky is in a maternal mortality crisis," said Rep. Lisa Willner, the caucus's chair. "We claim to be in a country that cares about the sanctity of life, yet pregnant people in the United States are more likely to die from childbirth or pregnancy-related causes than women in all other high-income countries."
Willner said women in the United States are more than twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related issues in 2021 than they were in 1987. And in Kentucky, the numbers are even worse.
"Here in Kentucky, the maternal mortality rate is more than double the national average," said Willner. "Pregnancy in Kentucky is too often a death sentence and even worse - the death rate for black pregnant women is three to four times higher than it is for non-Hispanic white women. This is unacceptable."
Rep. Attica Scott said this is not just a health problem. It's a racial justice issue. She pointed out that black women and women of color are less likely to have access to mental health care - even though they also face additional mental health stressors.
"Black women and women of color are less likely than white women to have mental health care access during and after pregnancy due to a range of barriers, such as affordability, lack of adequate insurance coverage, and geographic barriers to care," said Scott. "At the same time, black women and women of color experience additional mental health stressors due to institutional and systemic racism, resulting in worse health outcomes."
So, the goal of the Kentucky Maternal and Infant Health Project is to expand health care access. Examples of the proposed bills are:
CARE FOR FAMILIES:
1.) Requiring Medicaid to cover the cost of midwives and doulas. Both professionals are able to
provide a less stressful environment for the new mothers and those being born. Numerous
studies indicate midwives and doulas alike lead to fewer health complications.
2.) Expanding the current HANDS program, which gives assistance to families having their first
child. This legislation calls for HANDS to include maternal and postpartum depression
referrals and services.
3.) Extending Medicaid coverage for up to a year for postpartum-related health issues. Current
coverage ends after 60 days.
ACCESS TO CARE:
1.) Establishing pregnancy as a qualifying event for health insurance to increase access to prenatal
care for those who otherwise may not have health insurance.
2.) Removing sales taxes on breastfeeding equipment and having insurance cover these costs.
1.) Authorizing a maternal, fetal, and infant mortality working group to bring together stakeholders
to work on further improvements.
1.) Establishing bereavement leave for workers whose child was stillborn.
2.) Establishing insurance coverage for maternal depression screenings at well-child pediatric visits.
3.) Having hospitals provide information on postpartum depression before maternity patients are
4.) Creating a child mental health services access program.
1.) Expanding access to midwives/doulas and other pregnancy-related services for incarcerated
The caucus's message is that this problem can be solved. Studies show that the majority of maternal death in the US are preventable. So, the caucus encourages other lawmakers to support the cause.
"Is 2021 the year that the legislature takes real policy action on health equity and racial justice," asked Scott. "We shall see."