Readout of HHS Secretary Becerra’s Black Maternal Health Discussion with State Leaders

On Thursday, April 14, 2022, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra participated in a discussion on advancing equity in maternal health, with state leaders, including New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy and Washington First Spouse Trudi Inslee. Secretary Becerra highlighted the federal government’s work around equity in maternal health. This event took place during Black Maternal Health Week (April 11-17, 2022), following the first-ever White House meeting on maternal health convened by Vice President Kamala Harris with Cabinet Secretaries and agency leaders. The Administration made several announcements aimed to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity, including the proposal of a “Birthing-Friendly” hospital designation to drive improvements in maternal health outcomes.

In his opening remarks, the Secretary stated: “This month, as many as 720,000 pregnant and postpartum women across America will now be able to qualify to get Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage, not just for 60 days the way currently the law allows, but for a full 365 days—a full year after pregnancy— thanks to the President’s American Rescue Plan.” So far, the states that have extended their Medicaid postpartum coverage include Michigan, Louisiana, Virginia, New Jersey, and Illinois. The Secretary noted that he hopes every state “is willing to partner with us and receive those extra funds to keep women on their care for a full 365 days.”

Participants are listed below.

  • Tammy Murphy, New Jersey First Lady
  • Assemblymember Britnee N. Timberlake, Guest of First Lady Murphy
  • Trudi Inslee, Washington First Spouse
  • Jasmyne Bryant, Guest of First Spouse Inslee

Participants underscored the importance of closing gaps in equity and access, particularly for communities of color and low-income families and pregnant people. Secretary Becerra reiterated the importance of every state partnering with HHS to extend Medicaid’s postpartum coverage from two months to twelve months, emphasizing that “we know a whole lot happens in those additional 10 months,” especially for behavioral health, which is often overlooked. The group also noted the potential for positive impact if more states joined an effort to have a certified, compensated, community-based doula program. Jasmyne Bryant, who is a full spectrum doula, stated that “we keep telling people that it takes a village, but there also needs to be professions that show up as that village.”

The group discussed best practices that have proven successful in New Jersey and Washington. First Lady Murphy emphasized the successes of New Jersey’s Nurture NJ program, which brings resources directly to low-income families in maternal health hotspots. She shared that these one-stop-shops have helped over 5,800 families across the country access WIC, transportation services, housing, and more. Furthermore, First Spouse Inslee showcased Washington’s paid family and medical leave program as “one of the best in the country,” which promotes allowing parents to take as much time off as they need to care for an infant or any family member who needs medical care

This discussion builds on the Biden-Harris Administration’s demonstrated commitment to advancing equity in maternal health, with a special focus on Black pregnant and postpartum parents. Secretary Becerra highlighted that last year, HHS announced nearly $350 million in awards to every state across the nation to support safe pregnancies and healthy babies. The Department also awarded approximately $82 million in emergency home visiting funds to support the needs of expectant parents and families with young children living in communities at risk for poor maternal and child health outcomes. This funding is in addition to an initial investment of $40 million in American Rescue Plan funds for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, to 56 state jurisdictions and nonprofit organizations.

Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake, who noted that she was nine months pregnant when first sworn in, quoted the Secretary’s remarks at the White House meeting with Vice President Harris and Cabinet officials: “Pregnancy is not a disease, but a community grounding event. It should be a happy and positive outcome”. Emphasizing the importance of this message and, in doing so, highlighting that it will take a whole-of-government and community approach to bring lasting change that all pregnant people in America deserve.

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