CMS, HHS take ‘historic’ actions to improve maternal health care
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra announced initiatives that he said will improve the lives of low-income mothers and lower U.S. maternal morbidity and mortality rates, which are among the highest in developed and high-income countries.
The announcement coincided with the start of Black Maternal Health Week.
Illinois expands postpartum benefits
The first initiative allows Illinois to expand postpartum benefits to 12 months for female Medicare recipients from now until Dec. 31, 2025. Currently, the benefits only last 60 days. About 2,500 women in Illinois could benefit from the expansion, HHS said in a press release.
In a statement, CMS said Illinois will be required to provide multiple reports regarding the expansion so HHS may gauge its effectiveness.
Becerra encouraged other states to consider similar expansions.
“There has been a lot of work done to show how important it is to keep a woman under care and have her family know there won't be a lapse in coverage simply because money is tight,” Becerra said during a conference call with reporters. “My sense is that once other states see that Illinois became the leader of the pack, they too will try to join in, and we want them to come on board.”
Grants aim to improve women’s health
The second initiative will provide three organizations as much as $1 million in grant funding annually from the Health Services & Resources Administration (HRSA) for 4 years to enhance maternal obstetrics care in rural communities, Becerra said.
An HRSA press release indicated that applicants must meet certain network and location requirements and — for the first time, according to Becerra — “focus on populations that have historically suffered from poor health outcomes, health disparities and other inequities.”
Funds must be used to plan and implement activities consistent with “risk appropriate care approaches in rural regions, continuum of care through network approaches, telehealth and specialty care and financial sustainability,” the HRSA press release also stated.
Lawmakers cautiously optimistic
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus lauded the initiatives.
“With today's historic announcement ... we will be able to save moms’ lives, improve maternal health outcomes and achieve true equity and justice for all,” U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, (D-Ill.), said during the conference call.
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) called Becerra’s announcements “monumental” but also warned against complacency.
“We still have much more work to do for women across the country,” she said.
CMS. Letter to Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director. https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/section-1115-demonstrations/downloads/il-continuity-care-admin-simplification-ca.pdf. Accessed April 12, 2021.
HHS. HHS marks Black Maternal Health Week by announcing measures to improve maternal health outcomes. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2021/04/12/hhs-marks-black-maternal-health-week-announcing-measures-improve-maternal.html. Accessed April 13, 2021.
Health Services & Resources Administration. Apply now. https://www.hrsa.gov/about/news/pressreleases/apply-hrsa-forhp-funding-rural-maternity-rmoms. Accessed April 12, 2021.