Saying it’s imperative the state does much more to improve its dismal maternal and child health record, the Kentucky House Democratic Women’s Caucus will introduce the most of more than 30 bills this week that would provide much-needed help to new mothers and to newborns in the same way. It is the third legislative session of the Women’s Committee that presents these bills as part of a multi-faceted package.
“It is beyond tragic that pregnancy-related deaths in this country have more than doubled in the past 30 years, and Kentucky’s rate is among the worst in a country whose national average is at the bottom of the industrialized nations,” said the representative. of the state Lisa Willner of Louisville, who chairs the women’s caucus. “Around 700 pregnant women die every year in our country from causes related to pregnancy, of which a third during pregnancy, another third during labor or the first week after birth and the remaining third in the following year”.
“Our bills address all three in ways that would give those who are or have been pregnant and their children the level of care they need and deserve.” added Congressman Willner. “We cannot afford to ignore the mental health impact of pregnancy-related risks and concerns, or that pregnant people and black babies are at a much higher risk than their white counterparts.”
“I am doubly proud to support these bills, both as a legislator and as a pregnant woman,” said State Representative Lindsey Burke of Lexington. “These bills offer real-world solutions that can be implemented quickly and cost-effectively and would do so much to improve outcomes for families across the state.”
“Given the significant advances we’ve made in medicine and public health over the past few decades, pregnancy-related health issues should improve, yet they haven’t for a long, long time,” said State Representative Rachel. Roarx of Louisville. “I am proud to work with my fellow lawmakers to reverse this trend as much as possible and I hope this collective effort can serve as a model for other states to follow.”
More than 20 of the bills will expand health coverage through Medicaid and private insurance or change tax policy. These include eliminating sales tax on things like diapers, infant formula, breastfeeding supplies, and feminine hygiene products; require Medicaid to cover doulas and midwives during childbirth; calling on health insurers to pay for medically necessary infant formula; and have state and private health insurance companies expand coverage for antenatal care and contraceptives and include pregnancy as a qualifying event so that health coverage for those who are expecting can begin well before delivery.
Several bills focus on postpartum care. Some would increase access to public and private health care for new mothers, including those who have a third-trimester miscarriage or lose a child; and another calls on all hospitals and birthing centers to provide new mothers with information about maternal depression and how to access available resources.
Another proposal would require all public and private health insurers to cover all FDA-approved prescription drugs that treat postpartum ailments. A separate bill would have a child’s insurer reimburse the costs of screening parents or guardians for depression during visits of healthy children up to age five, and another would expand the long-standing HANDS program state to screen first-time parents for maternal and postpartum depression.
Other bills would modernize workplace policies.
One would like state and private companies to expand their medical leave policies to include employees facing a third-trimester miscarriage or death of a baby.
Companies with 50 or more employees, meanwhile, would also have to provide 12 weeks of paid medical leave to new parents, a well-established benefit in many other countries, and another bill would allow all employees statewide to earn paid sick leave.
The caucus proposals would establish a new legislative committee — the Infant Mortality Task Force, to further study the underlying causes in these cases — and create the Kentucky Child Mental Health Services Access Program, so primary care physicians would be able to connect quickly with professionals able to treat mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities of their young patients.
Legislation has also been introduced to close substantial racial disparities in maternal and child care; declare March as “Kentucky Maternal and Infant Mortality and Disparities Awareness Month”; and provide more help to inmates who are pregnant or have recently given birth.
Two women who would benefit from the legislative package have lent their support to the bills.
“Maternal and reproductive health legislation proposed by House Democrats would allow tens of thousands of Kentuckians to have access to essential life-saving health services and products,” said Elizabeth Gribbins of Louisville, who was diagnosed with the syndrome in high school. polycystic ovary and whose treatment required hormonal birth control.
That’s why, she said, she supported the bill requiring health insurers to cover a 12-month supply of birth control. If it becomes law, it “would lower unintended pregnancy rates and help people with medical conditions like mine easily and affordably access critical medicines. I support this proposal, along with the other reproductive and maternal health bills, and you should too, for a better Kentucky.
Murray’s Jenni Hitt opened up about the pain of losing a pregnancy in 2018.
“I was in emotional and physical agony,” she said, “and none of my doctors provided me with support for postpartum depression or the pain of losing my pregnancy. They sent me on my way and didn’t look back. We need stronger support for miscarriage care in Kentucky, not firing.
The bills included in the Kentucky House Democratic Women’s Caucus’ maternal and child health package will now be considered by the General Assembly during the current legislative session, which ends next month.
Legislative Research Commission