Members of the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus held a press conference at Chester County Hospital to discuss the importance of the Commonwealth’s plans to extend Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum for all Pennsylvanians. Pictured (from left to right): State Senator Judy Schwank, State Rep. Mary Jo Daley, State Senator Carolyn Comitta, State Senator Amanda Cappelletti, and State Rep. Morgan Cephas. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

WEST CHESTER—State Senator Carolyn Comitta was joined at Chester County Hospital by Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Meg Snead, leaders of the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus, and doctors and medical professionals to discuss the importance of Pennsylvania’s plans to extend Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum for all Pennsylvanians.

Under the American Rescue Plan Act, states can expand the Medicaid postpartum coverage period for mothers up to one year following the birth of a baby, previously coverage was available for only 60 days.

The extended coverage would go into effect on April 1, 2022.

Senator Comitta, a member of the Women’s Health Caucus, the Pennsylvania Commission for Women, and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, highlighted the expansion as an opportunity to make a multi-generational impact on the future of postpartum individuals, families, babies, and young people.

“By Pennsylvania taking the step to opt-in to expand Medicaid coverage, we are placing the health and wellbeing of families and children first. This is a significant opportunity to save lives, improve access to quality care, and set new families up for success,” said Comitta. “The first year postpartum is not only a vital period of development for babies, but it’s also a significant time for parents recovering from childbirth and adjusting to new roles and challenges.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services recently announced its intention to implement the extension, a historic investment in the health and well-being of future generations.

“We live in a country that espouses the value of life and opportunity for all people, but we cannot truly value life with a growing maternal mortality rate. We must do better,” said Snead. “The extension of Medicaid coverage to a year following the birth of a baby will help ensure new moms and other parenting people are supported on all levels as they navigate parenthood. We cannot leave mothers alone during such a vulnerable and foundational time for their child’s and their own futures, and this will help give the support they deserve.”

Leaders of the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus in attendance also emphasized the importance of raising awareness and support for the expansion. The bipartisan, bicameral caucus of legislators is leading a statewide #OptInPA campaign aimed to bring awareness to the advantages extended coverage will provide via quality and lifesaving maternal and postpartum services.

“We all want Pennsylvania to be a place where moms and babies thrive. However, right now far too many people across the commonwealth are impacted by postpartum morbidity and mortality. These problems won’t go away unless we take serious steps toward addressing the inequities in our health care system. Postpartum morbidity and mortality are especially prevalent among individuals whose primary source of payment is Medicaid. Pennsylvania’s decision to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months is not only the morally right thing to do, it will ultimately save lives,” said state Senator Judy Schwank, Co-Chairwoman of the Women’s Health Caucus.

State Senator Amanda M. Cappelletti, Co-Chairwoman of the Women’s Health Caucus, stated, “We must permanently opt-in to expanding Medicaid for postpartum people. This is an evidence-based policy that will save the lives of infants, new parents, and make things easier during an already challenging time. I am glad to be working with strong advocates and allies in fighting for this expansion, as there is real support for this policy moving forward.”

State Representative Mary Jo Daley, Co-Chairwoman of the Women’s Health Caucus, said, “Access to quality healthcare is essential, and throughout the pandemic we have seen maternal mortality rates skyrocket across the country, especially in minority communities. Opting-in is a historical investment in the birthing people, families, and children of our Commonwealth.”

“Birthing people in Pennsylvania are in dire need of access to care to improve maternal and child health outcomes, and this extension is an important step in the right direction,” said State Representative Morgan Cephas, Co-Chairwoman of the Women’s Health Caucus. “I am grateful that the department recognizes the role they play in quelling this crisis and has been intentional in taking action towards solutions. The Wolf Administration in conjunction with the Women’s Health Caucus, medical professionals and activists, together we can implement the necessary measures for life-saving transformational change for all Pennsylvania families.”

Chester County Hospital leaders and health professionals in attendance affirmed that expanded coverage under Medicaid would allow for greater and longer quality healthcare for new mothers and babies. Coverage would be expanded to provide medical care such as screening and treatment for postpartum depression, breastfeeding support, preventative care, substance use disorder treatment, and access to family planning services for a full year postpartum.

Michael Duncan, President and CEO, Chester County Hospital said, “Many of us know the difficulties mothers can face, especially new moms. When given the choice between caring for themselves or caring for their child, the latter will always prevail. Having access to Medical Assistance for 12 months postpartum gives many women in our community the opportunity to not have to choose between the two. This proposed extension could improve health outcomes and increase equity in health care access, which is in line with Chester County Hospital’s mission and values.”

“Prenatal care does not end at delivery, it continues beyond the hospital stay,” said Eduardo Mercurio, MD, FACOG, Co-Chair, Department of OB/GYN, Chester County Hospital. “Our patients from low- or lower- income communities, especially black communities, are disproportionately affected by the lack of access to adequate health care. Extending this aid beyond 60 days is vital for many of our patients and will surely have a positive impact on their overall health.”

Frances Doyle, MSN, RN, CNML, Director, Maternal Child Services, Chester County Hospital added, “The fourth trimester is important to a woman’s lifelong health. There is significant current research that focuses on the importance of continuing care for a new mother and the proposed program would provide significant assistance to enable many disadvantaged women to access the resources and treatment needed for optimal outcomes.”

According to a report of 2018 data, the United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality among 10 similar nations. Maternal mortality data for 2019 released earlier this year shows that the trend is growing – up to 20.1 deaths per 100,000 live births from 17.4 per 100,000 in 2018, and maternal mortality is significantly more common among Black women as compared to White and Latinx women.

More information on DHS’ health equity and health innovation work, the postpartum Medicaid expansion, and maternal-child health programs available across Pennsylvania is available online.

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