By: Kelly O’Reilly
For Ohio’s health plans, reducing our state’s unacceptably high mortality rates for infants and new moms has been a longstanding priority. Given the great need and a new option provided by the federal government, we join members of Ready, Set, Soar Ohio, managed by Groundwork Ohio, in calling on state policymakers to act.
Through the American Rescue Plan —approved by Congress in March — states can get federal support for extending Medicaid coverage for new moms until a baby’s first birthday. The Ohio General Assembly should include language in the biennial budget to take this opportunity. It would enable new mothers, up to 200% of the federal poverty limit, to have full Medicaid coverage for 12 months postpartum.
Currently, coverage for far too many new mothers stops just 60 days after the baby’s birth.
That leaves many of low-income Ohio women with no coverage when their health can be especially fragile. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of pregnancy-related deaths happen not during pregnancy but in the year following birth.
The U.S. has among the highest rates of maternal mortality in the developed world, and the numbers are rising. Data from the March of Dimes show that the rate in Ohio rose from 9.8 deaths per 100,000 to 14.1 over the period from 2003 to 2007.
These numbers are even worse when you consider the stark gap between Black and white mothers. According to the Ohio Department of Health, the maternal mortality rate for white mothers between 2008 and 2016 was 11.5 per 100,000. For Black mothers, it was nearly triple: 29.5. All of these numbers are unacceptable, and we must all do more to change these trends and save more lives. The Ohio Legislature has that opportunity now.
Health plans, working with community partners, can make a difference in changing this grim picture. Some of the strategies we have employed include:
In 2019, the Department of Medicaid and the state’s five Medicaid Managed Care plans awarded two-year grants totaling more than $25 million to groups in nine counties working to reduce infant mortality. The local coalitions, in Butler, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Lucas, Mahoning, Montgomery, Stark, and Summit Counties, are focused especially on lowering the disproportionately high infant mortality rate for Black babies.
With help from the Department of Medicaid, which identifies mothers who may need enhanced services, managed care plans reach out to those women and help connect them to needed services.
Plans have worked with the Department of Medicaid to remove prior authorization and other barriers to providing injections of 17 hydroxy progesterone. If administered between 16 and 26 weeks of pregnancy, this treatment can significantly reduce the risk of preterm labor in women who have had a previous preterm baby.
But women who may need these interventions can’t receive them if they don’t have health care coverage. That’s why we are urging the legislature to support extending Medicaid eligibility for women after childbirth. It can be a powerful tool for helping more babies and their mothers survive and thrive. Ohio owes it to these mothers and their babies to take advantage of this important opportunity.
Kelly O’Reilly is the President and CEO of the Ohio Association of Health Plans (OAHP). Learn more about OAHP at oahp.org/.