Women’s Health Caucus applauds DHS’s commitment to maternal health

HARRISBURG, Aug. 5 – Today, the Women’s Health Caucus offered its support to the Wolf administration and Human Services Department Secretary Meg Snead on their decision to extend medical assistance coverage to 12 months postpartum. Under the American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden, states have the option to extend Medicaid coverage for postpartum women from the current 60 days to a full year.

At a press event today and in response to a letter sent by House Democratic leadership, Snead confirmed the department is prioritizing extending coverage for the full year.

“I'm pleased to see DHS taking steps to prioritize maternal health,” said WHC co-chair Sen. Amanda Cappelletti. “By extending care to 12 months postpartum, we can lift some of the burden off of so many new parents and make health care more accessible for those who need it most.”

Nationally, the United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates when compared to similarly wealthy countries. Growing evidence shows that the postpartum period lasts longer than 60 days and extending coverage for a full year can reduce maternal mortality rates and improve outcomes for both mothers and children.

WHC co-chair Sen. Judy Schwank emphasized the importance of this decision, saying, "We cannot stress enough how important it is to help new moms and babies get a healthy start. By extending Medicaid coverage, health issues, including mental health problems like postpartum depression that are of high risk to mothers, can be addressed, and the number of preventable maternal deaths can be reduced. The state plan amendment ensures that mothers continue to have access to the necessary services and support for both themselves and their children. I am so pleased that Secretary Snead and her team are proactively working to ensure that the Commonwealth accesses federal resources to extend maternal health care."

Quelling maternal mortality has been top of the Women’s Health Caucus’s legislative agenda, with state Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Phila., WHC co-chair, championing legislation that aims to protect pregnant people by bolstering access to high-quality health care.

“When tackling issues as complex as maternal mortality, it is imperative to create a strategy which addresses the issue from different angles and just as imperative to work collaboratively to get things done,” said Cephas. “I am grateful to House leadership for recognizing this and for working with the Women’s Health Caucus to get the message across – birthing people in Pennsylvania need access to care to improve maternal and child health outcomes. I am also grateful that the department recognizes the role they play in improving outcomes and has decided to act. Together we can make improvements for Pennsylvania’s families.”

Under ARPA, this new option can take effect starting April 1, 2022, and would be available to states for five years. This means mothers will soon have access to vital medical care like screening and treatment for chronic conditions, mental health services, breastfeeding support, preventative care, substance use disorder treatment, and access to family planning services for a full year postpartum.

“We are happy to hear that DHS is prioritizing extending MA coverage for postpartum women from 60 days to 12 months,” said WHC co-chair state Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery. “This extension of care will certainly be beneficial for families across the Commonwealth, and I am grateful that the Department of Human Services has deemed this issue as a priority as maternal mortality rates remain shockingly high. Recognizing the importance of postpartum care is a win for families across Pennsylvania and we are happy to continue this work with the Department of Human Services.”