Women’s Health Caucus Chairs Sen. Judy Schwank (D-11th district) and Rep. Mary Jo Daley (D-148th district) held a press conference Tuesday about postpartum Medicaid expansion featuring Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Acting Secretary Meg Snead.
On Thursday, August 5, Snead announced that the Wolf Administration would take advantage of a provision in the American Rescue Plan which allows states to extend postpartum coverage for Medicaid recipients from 60 days to 12 months.
The event, held at the Drexel University College of Medicine in Wyomissing, is the first in a series the WHC will be holding in support of the Wolf Administrations decision and to highlight Pennsylvania’s need for holistic, extended postpartum coverage.
Schwank opened the event by highlighting how postpartum mortality touches everyone. Schwank said that while black women are disproportionately impacted by postpartum mortality, women in rural areas account for a quarter of deaths in Pennsylvania.
“We are going to be talking about this all over Pennsylvania because there is not a corner of the commonwealth this issue doesn’t touch,” Schwank said. “Whether we are talking about rural areas which account for 25 percent of pregnancy related death annually, cities like Reading, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh or all the suburban areas in-between, we all have a stake in this. No one is immune from medical complications related to childbirth, but every mother and child deserves access to the care they desperately need.”
Snead underlined to the need to extend postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months and mention that 3.3 million people in Pennsylvania receive medical coverage from Medicaid. through 60 days after childbirth.
“Two months after going through the physical and emotional strain of childbirth, that coverage for your mind and body could be pulled out from under you,” Snead said. “We are committed to improving the extent and quality of care for Pennsylvania families, especially our most vulnerable. Moms, babies and all parents raising children deserve more and this is our opportunity to do better.”
Rep. Daley applauded the Biden Administration and members of congress for including the option to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage in the ARP.
“The crisis of maternal mortality is real in Pennsylvania, as about 30 percent of births are covered by Medicaid, with Medicaid being the primary payer in about 53 percent of pregnancy associated deaths,” Daley said.
“Access to health care, we all know, is essential, but especially during the first 12 months of being a parent. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen maternal mortality rates increase, and this historic investment in the children and birthing people of Pennsylvania is one of the important steps in combating this issue across the commonwealth.
Dr. Mark Woodland, Chair of the Department of OBGYN at Reading Hospital Tower Health, said he realized Berks County had undercount postpartum mortalities because they occurred outside the typical obstetrical period.
“I used to brag on the fact that we had not reported here, in Berks County, a maternal mortality between our two major hospitals for over the last five years,” Dr. Woodland said. “But that was before I realized that was only from obstetric related causes which represent less than 20 percent of the cases as outlined in the state report of maternal mortality, released in December of 2020. We quickly realized we were missing the maternal deaths that occurred during the first postpartum year as we reviewed nine deaths that occurred in our system over the last five years.”
Amanda Hunter, founder of Everlasting Wellness and a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in perinatal and maternal mental health, shared her own struggles with postpartum morbidity, anxiety and depression.
“I went to doctors, I went to mental health specialists, and everyone told me this was normal mom anxiety, normal mom depression and that I will be fine and that everything would get better. A year postpartum, I still was not better,” Hunter said. “It can last more than a year, so saying only 60 days, it’s not appropriate, it doesn’t help anybody. Deaths can happen up to a year, and it can even happen after.”