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House women to introduce ‘Kentucky Maternal and Infant Health Project’ legislation, close ‘deadly gaps’


Saying it is a moral imperative for Kentucky to improve health outcomes for new mothers and newborns alike, members of the House Democratic Women’s Caucus announced a multi-pronged legislative plan they’re calling the “Kentucky Maternal and Infant Health Project.”

“The United States is last among wealthy countries when measuring the rate of women dying because of pregnancy-related causes, and Kentucky’s numbers are close to two-and-a-half times worse than the national average,” said state Rep. Lisa Willner of Louisville, who chairs the House Democratic Women’s Caucus.

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“We should all be alarmed that it’s twice as dangerous for a woman in our country to be pregnant now as it was in the late 1980s. These devastating trend lines cast a long shadow over too many families, but it does not have to be this way. The Kentucky Maternal and Infant Health Project gives us the blueprint we need to turn these numbers around quickly.”

State Rep. Attica Scott of Louisville, one of only two Black women serving in the General Assembly, said that “the mortality numbers for Black pregnant women and Black infants are about three times higher than they are for those who are white.  That disparity adds another layer of grief and tragedy, but the bills my colleagues and I are filing this week will help close those deadly gaps.”

Rep. Patti Minter of Bowling Green said many of the bills expand coverage offered by Medicaid, which covers half of all births in Kentucky.

“This is an area where we can make an impact on better outcomes for women and infants, because we have much more control over the services provided by this state program,” she said.

House Democratic Caucus Leader Joni Jenkins of Louisville added that there are other legislative provisions designed to gauge Kentucky’s progress in maternal and infant health going forward.

“We cannot rely on anecdotal data to make policy,” she said. “Our legislation will have experts studying cases on a regular basis, to see where we may be doing well and where we need to improve. Even if every one of these bills becomes law, there will still be plenty of work to do.”

“We so often think of maternal and infant health in physical terms, but the mental health component is just as crucial,” said state Rep. Tina Bojanowski of Louisville.  ““Having a child with a mental health disorder can be an overwhelming experience for many, which is why I am proud that several of these bills will raise awareness and give parents and children better access to the mental health services they may need.”

The Kentucky Maternal and Infant Health Project consists of 21 bills that address five broad areas: care for families, access to care, health equity, mental health, and incarceration.  Examples of the proposed legislation include:

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.

HEALTH EQUITY

1.) Authorizing a maternal, fetal and infant mortality working group to bring together stakeholders to work on further improvements.

MENTAL HEALTH

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 discharged.

4.) Creating a child mental health services access program.

INCARCERATION

1.) Expanding access to midwives/doulas and other pregnancy-related services for incarcerated women.

The Kentucky Maternal and Infant Health Project’s legislation will be filed this week and then considered by the General Assembly during the remainder of the ongoing legislative session, which ends March 30th.

From Kentucky House Democratic Women’s Caucus


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