The Kentucky House Democratic Women’s Committee says it’s imperative that the state do much more to improve its dismal health outcomes for mothers and children, and this week will file the bulk of more than 30 bills that new mothers and infants urgently need would provide needed help like. It is the Women’s Group’s third term in office that these bills will be presented as part of a multi-faceted package.
“It is beyond tragedy that pregnancy-related deaths in this country have more than doubled in the past 30 years and that Kentucky’s rate is among the worst in a country whose national average is at the low end of developed nations,” she said State representative Lisa Willner from Louisville, who chairs the women’s committee. “Around 700 pregnant women die every year in our country from pregnancy-related causes, a third of them during pregnancy, another third during labor or in the first week after birth and the remaining third in the following year.”
“Our bills address all three in a way that provides those who are or have been pregnant and their children with the level of care they need and deserve,” Rep. Willner added. “We cannot afford to ignore the psychological impact of pregnancy-related risks and concerns, or that pregnant people and babies who are black are at much greater risk than their white counterparts.”
“I am doubly proud to support these bills, both as a legislator and as a pregnant person,” said Rep. Lindsey Burke of Lexington. “These bills offer real-world solutions that can be implemented quickly and inexpensively, and they would do so much to improve outcomes for families across the state.”
“Given the significant advances we have made in medicine and public health over the past few decades, the health problems associated with pregnancy should be improving, and yet that has not been the case for a long time,” said State Rep. Rachel Roar from Louisville. “I am proud to work with my colleagues to reverse this trend as much as possible and I hope that this joint effort can serve as a model for other states.”
More than 20 of the bills would expand Medicaid and private insurance coverage or change tax policies. These include eliminating sales tax on things like diapers, baby food, nursing supplies and feminine hygiene products; require Medicaid to cover doulas and midwives during the birthing process; Request to the health insurance funds to pay for medically necessary baby food; and that state and private health plans expand coverage for prenatal care and contraceptives and include pregnancy as a qualifying event so that health insurance for pregnant women can begin long before birth.
Several bills focus on postpartum care. Some would improve access to public and private health care for young mothers, including those who miscarry or lose a child in the third trimester; and another calls on all hospitals and birthing centers to provide new mothers with information about maternal depression and access to available resources.
Another proposal would require all public and private health insurers to cover all FDA-approved prescription drugs used to treat postpartum disorders. A separate bill would have a child’s insurer reimburse the cost of screening parents or guardians for depression during visits to healthy children up to age five, and another would expand the state’s long-standing HANDS program to include first-time parents to maternal and to study postpartum depression.
Other bills would modernize workplace policies.
One would have to get the state and private companies to expand their sick leave policies to include employees coping with a third trimester miscarriage or the death of a child.
Businesses with 50 or more employees, meanwhile, would also have to provide 12 weeks of paid sick leave for new parents, a benefit well-established in many other countries, and another law would allow all employees across the state to earn paid sick leave.
The caucus’ proposals would create a new legislative committee — the Infant Mortality Task Force to further investigate the underlying causes in these cases — and create the Kentucky Child Mental Health Services Access Program so primary care physicians could quickly connect with professionals in the able to treat their young patients’ mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities.
Legislation has also been introduced to eliminate significant racial disparities in maternal and infant care; declare March “Kentucky Maternal and Infant Mortality and Disparity Awareness Month”; and to provide more help to those incarcerated who are either pregnant or have recently given birth.
Two women who would benefit from the legislative package offered their support for the bills.
“Maternal and reproductive health legislation proposed by House Democrats would provide tens of thousands of Kentuckians with access to life-saving, essential health services and products,” said Elizabeth Gribbins of Louisville, who was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome in high school and whose treatment is one required hormonal contraception.
For that reason, she said, she supports the bill that would require health insurers to provide a 12-month supply of birth control. If it becomes law, it would “reduce the rate of unwanted pregnancies and help people with conditions like mine have easy and inexpensive access to 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 suffered from emotional and physical anguish,” she said, “and none of my doctors supported me with 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 treatment in Kentucky, not discharge.”
The bills included in the Kentucky House Democratic Women’s Committee’s 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