Efforts on to cut death rate for new mothers

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By DANIELLE JAMES
Capital News Service

LANSING — A new state program called “Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies” is intended to limit infant and maternal deaths with longer-term health care coverage and more home visiting programs for new mothers. 

According to a report by the Michigan League for Public Policy, the state currently ranks 30th in the nation for maternal mortality. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal to address mortality rates would extend Medicaid eligibility for new mothers, according to Lynn Sutfin, a public information officer for the state Department of Health and Human Services. 

“Right now, Medicaid eligibility is limited to 60 days, but with 12% of pregnancy-related deaths occurring between 43 days and 1 year after delivery, filling this coverage gap can improve Michigan’s maternal health outcomes,” she said.

Under the proposal, Medicaid eligibility would run for up to a year after a mother gives birth. 

According to Gilda Jacobs, the president of the League for Public Policy, expanding coverage would help mothers remain physically and mentally healthy longer after giving birth. 

  “Right now, Medicaid covers roughly 44 percent of all births in Michigan,” Jacobs said. 

“Extending that coverage for the first year of a baby’s life means women have access to the care they need to heal after childbirth and manage physical and mental health conditions that could jeopardize their well-being and their infant’s well-being,” she said.

Some critics, like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, disagree that Medicaid coverage should be expanded, according to Holly Wetzel, the communications coordinator for the free market-oriented research and advocacy center based in Midland. 

“The Mackinac Center’s position on Medicaid is that while the program was initially created to provide a safety net for our most vulnerable citizens, it has turned into an expensive entitlement program,” Wetzel said. 

“Instead of simply providing access to services and resources for that most vulnerable population, Medicaid now accounts for more than one-third of Michigan’s state budget,” she said.

According to Wetzel, alternate measures should be taken instead to help new mothers become self-sufficient. 

“While we don’t have an official position on the proposal [by Whitmer], we do know that the number of babies born onto the Medicaid rolls has increased dramatically over the last decade,” Wetzel said. 

“The state’s focus should not be on how it can expand Medicaid for postpartum needs, but rather how the state can empower women having children to find health care options that are customized for them by building a bridge to employment and private health coverage,” she said.

In addition to expanding health care coverage, Whitmer’s proposal would create new slots in home visiting programs across Michigan.  

Home visits are voluntary programs with health, social service and child development professionals, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

According to the federal agency, 2,166 households participated in Michigan home visiting programs in fiscal year 2018. 

According to Sutfin, the state department would add home visiting slots in four programs: Parents as Teachers, Healthy Families America, Nurse-Family Partnership and the Medicaid Maternal Infant Health Program. 

“Expanding them would provide valuable services to at-risk families in Michigan and leverage federal funding,” Sutfin said. “By directing families to these proven programs, the department can improve family outcomes.”  

According to Mattie Pearson, a service line administrator for women and children with the Maternal Infant Health Program, that education can start even before a woman gives birth.

“We try to reach mothers while they’re pregnant so they’re aware of the resources available to them before giving birth,” Pearson said. “During pregnancy we educate on what to expect with delivery and help them understand the normal process.” 

The Flint division of her state-funded program, run out of Hurley Medical Center, serves primarily local low-income families. 

“Visitors are social workers, nurses and dietitians,” Pearson said. “They go in and see what the client needs, and they use community resources to better help that client.” 

Pearson said she supports adding home visiting programs. 

“Expanding would allow us to help people really understand the need for the program and the benefits it can have,” Pearson said. “When people see the governor supporting our program, they are more likely to believe it can be beneficial.”