HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — This week is Black Maternal Health Week. Thursday, advocates and lawmakers discussed disparities facing Black mothers and potential solutions to address what they’re calling a crisis.
According to the CDC, in 2021 there were 32.9 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, roughly ten times the rate of other high-income countries like Australia and Japan. But for Black mothers in the U.S., the rate is much higher.
“Black women are dying three times more than their counterparts in the birthing experience,” said State Rep. Gina Curry (D-Chester), co-chair of the Women’s Health Caucus.
Curry says maternal care needs to be more equitable and accessible. She’s working to enhance mental health services and wants to see a more thorough, extended approach.
“I think people think, ‘oh, women are dying on the birthing table.’ No. What happens often is there’s complications after birth,” said Curry. “Right now we’re looking at a lot of things. We’re looking at mental health, we’re looking at the Medicaid extension that’s gone to 12 months. Thankfully, we have that here in the Commonwealth, which means there’s care for women who may not have access for 12 months after the baby is born,” she added.
Curry and advocates believe Pennsylvania needs a plan to support more doulas, midwives and other care services.
“There’s other legislation to get doulas compensated correctly through the insurance companies- not just for two and two, which means two visits before and two visits after- we know that this is a whole comprehensive journey,” said Curry.
“We need to make sure that we’re uplifting this issue, that we’re also prioritizing and making sure that we’re working towards real solutions,” said Pennsylvania’s Second Lady, Blayre Holmes Davis. “It is long overdue that we fix the environment of the lack of reproductive health care services for Black women. It is long overdue that we fix the environment that leads to Black women dying, when all they should feel is seen, respected and protected,” she added.
The Shapiro-Davis administration is proposing over two million dollars for maternal care in the upcoming budget. The Second Lady says it’s a historic investment.
“It’s a $2.3 million investment, and it’s the first time that the state has ever invested this much in this,” said Holmes Davis. “They’re making a priority to make sure that there’s budget dollars dedicated to uplifting advocates, uplifting doulas, uplifting midwives, making sure that women have paid maternity leave. It’s an extremely important issue, not just for black women across this commonwealth, but for everyone,” she added.
In 2022, Pennsylvania extended postpartum coverage for Medicaid beneficiaries to 12 months. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, the extension was initially offered as a five-year pilot under the American Rescue Plan Act. However, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, which passed in December, made this option permanent.