Gov. Ned Lamont announced enhancements to Connecticut’s maternal health coverage and services during a press conference at UConn Health on Tuesday.
The slew of new initiatives includes expanding prenatal coverage under the state’s public health program to all women who qualify regardless of immigration status, extending postpartum coverage from six-weeks to one full year and establishing a new payment bundle which will integrate doulas and breastfeeding support for up to one year.
The state is also piloting a universal home visiting and community health worker program beginning in the city of Bridgeport. The program will allow families one to three home visits from a registered nurse who will provide education and support for both infant and maternal health.
Lamont was joined by Department of Social Services commissioner Deidre Gifford, Department of Public Health commissioner Manisha Juthani, and medical providers.
“In Connecticut, there are on average five to six pregnancy-related deaths per year and about half of those deaths occur in the first six-weeks to one year after pregnancy,” said Department of Social Services commissioner Deidre Gifford. “So it’s very important that women have access to long-term care and not just to prenatal care or the immediate postpartum period but for that entire year after pregnancy.”
The series of new measures are aimed at addressing racial disparities and improving health outcomes in the state at a time when maternal deaths are increasing nationally.
“We had previously seen remarkable progress in maternal health to the point where a few decades ago maternal deaths were extremely rare in the United States,” said Gifford. “We have unfortunately seen that trend reversed and the number of maternal deaths have increased every year since 2018. Furthermore, maternal deaths for non-Hispanic Black women are three times as high in this country than for white women. These are matters that need to be urgently addressed.”
The new measures went into effect April 1 of this year as part of the General Assembly’s biennial state budget. Money to fund the government extension program for five years is included in the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The federal government estimates that about 4,000 women in Connecticut each year will be eligible for the extension in coverage.
Connecticut sees on average 35,000 births per year and about 40% of those are covered under the state’s public health coverage program HUSKY. In addition, 34% of those births are delivered by C-section, accounting for one of the highest rates in New England.
“By having a doula present before, during and after pregnancy we know can help to lower the C-section rate, encourage breastfeeding and help give the birthing parent any type of support they need to get the birth they want,” Cynthia Hayes, a practicing doula, said at Tuesday’s press conference. “We are encouraged by the state’s cutting-edge approach to expanding access to doula services as part of its maternity initiatives.”
Along with expanded services, prenatal coverage for undocumented women under the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program has also been expanded. Previously, undocumented women were ineligible because of their immigration status.
More changes are also scheduled for next year, including medical coverage for undocumented immigrant children up to the age of 8 will go into effect Jan. 1, 2023 and postpartum care for undocumented immigrant women will follow in April of 2023.
“We cannot leave those moms and babies behind,” said Lamont. “We’re making a particular emphasis in communities hardest hit by disparities. Basic health care is an individual right and no one should be asked about your immigration documentation.”