Wisconsin advocates urge Congress to pass maternal health policies

by Baylor Spears, Wisconsin Examiner
December 19, 2022

Wisconsin state Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) along with other advocates urged Congress to include maternal health care provisions in the year-end omnibus bill during a press conference Friday.

The US Senate approved a one-week temporary measure on Thursday, funding the government until December 23. Advocates are using the extra time for negotiations as a last chance to push for the inclusion of maternal health policies.

“Our kids deserve this opportunity to see their first birthday, and our parents deserve to be able to take their kids to the doctor when they’re sick without worrying about going broke,” Johnson said at a virtual news conference held by Protect our care.

Advocates focused primarily on three policies, including expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), expanding postpartum health care coverage, and advancing the “Black Maternal Health Momnibus,” a series of bills focused on addressing racial and ethnic differences in maternal health outcomes.

CHIP, which provides low-cost health care to children in families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, is currently funded through Sept. 30, 2027. Advocates are asking Congress to make that funding permanent and remove uncertainty about whether the program can end.

Johnson spoke about the importance of parents having access to care for their children without delay. She said she remembers feeling like the worst mom in the world when she had to put off seeking care for her daughter because she didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford extra bills.

“I know these problems exist because I’ve experienced them myself,” Johnson said. “And no child, no child deserves to not have the medical resources they need just to make sure they can lead a safe and healthy life.”

Christine Lyerly, a Wisconsin-based obstetrician-gynecologist and health advocate, said U.S. maternal mortality rates, when a person dies during childbirth or within a year after giving birth, are increasingly alarming.

A 2022 CDC study found that 861 women in the U.S. died of maternal causes, an increase from 754 who died in 2019. At least 25 women in Wisconsin die each year during pregnancy or within a year after birth, according to a 2018 DHS report.

Wisconsin has the worst black infant mortality rate in the nation, and black mothers in Wisconsin die from pregnancy-related complications at five times the rate of their white peers.

Another report found that about 80% of deaths between 2017 and 2019 that occurred within a year of giving birth were preventable.

Lyerly said ensuring mothers have access to health care for at least a year after giving birth is necessary to prevent deaths.

“Pregnancy doesn’t end when the baby comes out,” Lyerly said. “It takes a whole year for a woman’s body to recover from childbirth, and most women who die as a result of their pregnancy die after the baby is born. They die during the postpartum period from a blood clot or heart problem, or complications of untreated mental illness that end in suicide.

Lyerly said the Black Maternal Health Momnibus will help address racial disparities by giving practitioners the tools and training they need to confront discriminatory and biased practices, as well as increase the diversity of the workforce. to ensure that people with similar experience and cultural understanding are available to care for mothers.

Many see the omnibus bill as the last chance for President Joe Biden and Democrats to pass certain policies as Congress returns to divided status next year, with Republicans in control of the House.

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