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Lawmakers explore legislation to reduce maternal mortality

From Nancy Royden, LRC

Frankfort, KY -- Legislators heard from one of their own on Monday about proposals to shore up maternal health in Kentucky - a state described during testimony as having the second highest maternal mortality rate in the United States.

"I am very happy to be with you today to discuss a bill draft that I have worked on throughout the summer with a very nice bipartisan, bicameral, informal workgroup discussing maternal health," said Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, also co-chair of the committee.

Moser said those working on the legislation are targeting ways to improve the state's situation.

"We've really tried to pull all of the stakeholders together to take a deep dive and hard look at what is affecting maternal mortality in Kentucky. We know that new Kentucky mothers die at a higher rate in Kentucky than 48 other states," she said.

Moser said the legislation will most likely undergo changes before the legislative session that begins on Jan. 2, but it calls for establishment of the Kentucky maternal psychiatry access program, also known as the Kentucky Lifeline for Moms.

A dedicated hotline number would be available for health care practitioners to obtain information about referrals, continuing professional education and other issues regarding mental health services.

"I can say definitively that maternal health, as in saving mothers and babies, is a priority, especially for our caucus, and we want to make sure we are supporting moms and babies. And that's really what this seeks to do," she said.

The legislation would also cover a special enrollment period when women find out they're pregnant, Moser said.

One area of major concern is the high rate of substance use disorder, which is the top cause of death for mothers in the year following a birth, she said.

The legislation also addresses a lack of insurance coverage, access to prenatal care, mental health treatment, education and service referrals, including treatment support and follow-up care, Moser said.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, said he's aware of crisis pregnancy clients who struggle with costs of housing, transportation and other needs. He's working on legislation with some overlapping issues, and he commended Moser for her "leadership" and legislation to help mothers.

"Kentucky needs to invest in moms and children before they're born, when they're in the womb, after they're born, and as they're starting to grow in their early childhood development," he said. "We've done some things that are good, but we need to do a whole lot more."

Rep. Ryan Dotson, R-Winchester, said he's a father who supports the "momnibus" bill before broaching depression.

"And the question I have, and it's very personal to me because my eldest daughter gave birth to her second child, and she went into deep postpartum depression. And you referenced the mental health aspect. Does this deal with postpartum depression because I know how bad it got for her," he said.

Those concerns, Moser said, are integral to the bill. She pointed to components of the legislation that help identify women struggling with postpartum depression and improve their access to psychiatric care.

Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, D-Louisville, said legislators had to ask several questions to understand the directions they need to take to tackle maternal mortality.

"The process started with, 'What do we know about the data in our communities and our state? What do the experts say are the best solutions for those problems?' and 'How can we craft something that makes sense in our current policy landscape?'"

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, also committee co-chair, asked Moser about urban vs. rural rates of maternal mortality.

Moser said the Kentucky Perinatal Quality Collaborative and the Maternal Mortality Review Panel have good information about the issue.

"Obviously, only the moms who need this insurance coverage would access it. So we don't anticipate that this is going to be a large number. So regardless of whether you're rural or you're urban, if you need insurance, you should have access to that," she said.

Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, thanked Moser, and said in Kentucky, 48% of births were covered by Medicaid. In 2022, 45% of the births in the state were covered by Medicaid. He urged the committee to "keep our eyes also on the big picture in the Medicaid area," adding there is no free money.

"So anyone who wants to argue that we are not putting money into this area needs to go back and look at some of the data. I want to make sure that we're looking at this in a pragmatic way, an objective way and not just an emotional way," he said.

Moser said she agrees that more people are accessing Medicaid, but having healthier citizens will benefit the state's economy and fewer people will access Medicaid.

"We are looking at this issue because this is a crisis, and we need to get our hands around it. But I think you're right. We need to ultimately look at how to make Kentucky a healthier place, and I think we're doing that," she said.

This story was posted on 2023-11-08 08:19:25
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