On November 4, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and Women's Health Activist Movement Global (WHAMglobal) partnered with State Representative Morgan Cephas' office to host Opt in PA: A Panel on Postpartum Medicaid Extension, the 2021 installment of the annual Birthing a Movement event series. This year's event focused on Pennsylvania opting in to extend postpartum Medicaid.
President Biden's American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 included a provision that gives states a new option to extend Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 1 year postpartum. The new option can take effect beginning April 1, 2022, and would be available for five years.
Medicaid covers almost half of births nationally and 35% of births in Pennsylvania as of 2019. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, pregnancy-related mortality and morbidity is more prevalent during the postpartum period and impacts Black and Native American women three times higher. Conditions that contribute to maternal mortality and morbidity—such as hypertension, depression, and cardiovascular disease—require longer-term care. Medicaid coverage up to a year postpartum would provide access to preventive services and continuity of care.
During the event, Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Secretary Meg Snead and Pennsylvania State Representative Morgan Cephas, 192nd Legislative District (Philadelphia) gave opening remarks. Secretary Snead and Representative Cephas noted the importance of ensuring birthing people have access to services for a full year after birth. Representative Cephas added that maternal mortality is a "quiet crisis" in Pennsylvania, and that Medicaid extension is part of a broader suite of policy changes needed to address systemic racism that impacts health outcomes, especially for birthing people of color and their families.
The event featured a panel discussion, moderated by WHAMglobal Community Engagement and Policy Associate Morgan Overton, MSW, that included Iyanna Bridges, founder and owner of The Birthing Hut, Jessica Coles, community member, Rochelle Jackson, founder and director of the Black Women's Policy Agenda, and Demia Tyler, director of strategic partnerships at Healthy Start Inc.
The panelists discussed why Medicaid extension is so important for birthing people and families, focusing on the racial disparities of heart-related complications and maternal mortality, which, the panelists noted, disproportionately impact Black women due to systemic discrimination and racism. Many Black mothers are single parents, the panelists said, and their increased mortality risk impacts their children, families, and the community significantly. The extension would also support the work of postpartum doulas and increase long-term access to their services.
Beyond improving access to Medicaid, the panelists called for higher-quality and antiracist health care, which can be supported by training programs in cultural competency and antiracism for the medical and health professions, they said. Healthy Start and The Birthing Hut are collaborating with University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine students and Duquesne Nursing students to pilot such programs.
Overall, the panelists advocated for policymakers, healthcare leaders, and providers to trust Black women and birthing people (especially birthing people of color) as experts of their own experiences and for future policy change to center on birthing people's needs beyond Medicaid.