Northam proposes $22M to improve maternal health outcomes

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday that his budget proposal will include about $22 million for efforts to improve health outcomes for mothers and babies and reduce the racial disparity in the state’s maternal mortality rate.

Part of the funding in the spending plan for the legislative session that begins in January would expand Medicaid coverage for new moms and increase home visits from care providers, said Northam, who was surrounded by advocates holding babies and young children as he spoke in Richmond. The plan also would fund access to long-term contraceptives for low-income patients and study the possibility of Medicaid reimbursement for doula services.

“It is unacceptable that in this country and in our Commonwealth maternal mortality rates are on the rise,” he said. “This disparity is greatest among black women, who have a maternal mortality rate two times that of white women, regardless of education or income status.”

Northam, a Democrat, established a new initiative in June intended to reduce the maternal mortality rate for black women. He said the budget proposals grew out of that work, which included a series of public input session held around the state.

“Our goal is that every mother and every infant survive” to celebrate the baby’s first birthday together, said Northam, a pediatric neurologist.

The governor’s budget includes nearly $4 million over two fiscal years to expand Medicaid coverage for women who are eligible only while they are pregnant. Coverage for those women currently extends 60 days from the end of a pregnancy. The additional funding would extend coverage until a year post-pregnancy and cover treatment for substance use disorders.

State figures show the majority of pregnancy-associated deaths occurred more than 43 days from the end of the pregnancy and ensuring postpartum care would improve health outcomes, Northam said.

The budget plan would allocate another $4 million to the state program that offers long-acting reversible contraception to low-income patients and $12.8 million to make home visit services eligible for Medicaid reimbursement.

Northam said the plan also would call for the study of the best way to develop a Medicaid reimbursement model for doulas, who provide support to women and their partners during pregnancy, labor and the postpartum period.

Aaliyah Samuel, a mother from northern Virginia who spoke after Northam’s announcement, said she was grateful for the steps he was taking. She said she experienced discrimination from health care professionals during the birth of her first son, who did not survive.

“Unfortunately, my story is far too common among black women and women of color, not only here in Virginia but across the U.S.” she said.

Governors’ budget proposals generally serve as a starting point for negotiations during the General Assembly session, which starts in January. The budget will be a top priority, and Northam’s plan will likely get a warmer reception than the one he put forward a year ago. During last month’s legislative elections, voters gave Democrats full control of the General Assembly for the first time in a generation.

The governor is scheduled to make another budget announcement Tuesday at a child development center and is expected to share full details of his spending plan next week during a meeting of the House and Senate money committees.

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