Wisconsin advocates urge Congress to pass maternal health policies
Sen. LaTonya Johnson. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Wisconsin state Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) alongside other advocates urged Congress to pass maternal health care provisions in the year-end omnibus bill during a Friday press conference.
The U.S. Senate approved a one week stopgap measure on Thursday, funding the government until Dec. 23. Advocates are using the additional negotiation time as a last chance opportunity to push for the inclusion of maternal health care policies.
“Our children deserve that opportunity to make it to their first birthday, and our parents deserve to be able to take their kids to a doctor’s appointment when they’re sick without worrying about becoming bankrupt,” Johnson said at a virtual press conference held by Protect Our Care.
Advocates primarily focused on three policies including an expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), extending postpartum health care coverage and advancing the “Black Maternal Health Momnibus,” a series of bills focused on addressing racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes.
CHIP, which provides low-cost health care to children in families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, is currently funded through Sept. 30, 2027. Advocates are asking Congress to make this funding permanent and remove uncertainty about whether the program could end.
Johnson spoke about the importance of ensuring parents are able to access care for their children without delay. She said she remembered feeling like the worst mom in the world when she had to delay seeking care for her daughter because she didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford additional bills.
“I know that these issues exist because I’ve experienced them myself,” Johnson said “And no child, no child deserves to not have the medical resources necessary just to ensure that they’re able to have a safe and healthy life.”
Kristin Lyerly, a Wisconsin-based OB-GYN and health care advocate, said U.S. rates of maternal mortality, when a person dies while giving birth or within a year of giving birth, are increasingly concerning.
A 2022 CDC study found that 861 women in the U.S. died from maternal causes, an increase from the 754 who died in 2019. At least 25 women in Wisconsin die each year during pregnancy or within a year of giving birth, according to a 2018 DHS report.
Wisconsin has the worst rate of Black infant mortality in the nation and Black mothers in Wisconsin die from pregnancy related complications at a rate five times higher than that of their white peers.
Another report found that around 80% of deaths between 2017 and 2019 that happened within a year of childbirth were preventable.
Lyerly said ensuring that mothers have access to health care coverage for at least a year after giving birth is necessary for preventing deaths.
“The pregnancy doesn’t stop when the baby comes out,” Lyerly said. “It takes a full 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 a heart problem or complications of an untreated mental health condition that ends in suicide.”
Lyerly said the “Black Maternal Health Momnibus” would help address racial disparities by giving practitioners the tools and training they need to confront discriminatory and biased practices as well as increasing workforce diversity to ensuring people with similar experiences and cultural understanding are available to care for mothers.
Many view the omnibus bill as President Joe Biden’s and Democrats’ last chance to pass certain policies as Congress will return to a split status next year with Republicans holding control of the House.
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