Virginia Medicaid zeroes in on plans to address maternal mortality

Gov. Ralph Northam announced a goal to eliminate racial disparities in maternal mortality during a ceremonial bill signing on June 5. (Gov. Ralph Northam's Twitter feed)

Virginia’s Medicaid agency on Monday outlined its strategy to meet Gov. Ralph Northam’s announced goal to end the racial disparity in maternal mortality by 2025.

In Virginia, black women are three times more likely than their white counterparts to suffer a pregnancy-associated death. That is due to a variety of causes. From 2009 to 2013, 66 percent of pregnancy-related deaths for black women were due to natural causes, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Medicaid covers 1 in 3 births in Virginia, and Dr. Jennifer Lee, Virginia’s Medicaid director, pointed to expansion as one factor that will help the state meet the goal. Under the previous Medicaid rules, women were eligible for the program only during their pregnancies and 60 days afterward if they didn’t meet the other income requirements.

Expansion opens up the number of women who will remain covered by Medicaid after that 60 day period. Of the more than 296,000 people who have signed up for the program under its new expansion rules, 60 percent are women.

“Medicaid expansion opens the door to greatly improve access to care for low-income pregnant women in our Commonwealth,” Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey said in a news release. “It is imperative that we continue to build on expansion as a means to achieve better health outcomes for Virginians, including mothers and infants.”

The agency has identified several additional ways to end maternal and infant mortality among its members, the majority of which involve partnering with other state departments, including:

  • the Department of Social Services, to streamline Medicaid enrollment with policy changes and system upgrades so that the eligibility of pregnant women can be decided faster to avoid delays, and to share data to evaluate health outcomes of mothers and infants
  • the Department of Health, to decrease tobacco use and reduce childhood asthma
  • the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, to “strengthen early childhood interventions,” the release states.

According to the release, Virginia Medicaid will also implement technology upgrades so that women can transition between Medicaid eligibility categories seamlessly and avoid interruptions in coverage; launch a campaign to educate women about the new expansion rules and the importance of prenatal and postpartum care; increase the percentage of pregnant and postpartum women with substance use disorder who are receiving treatment; and develop online dashboards to increase transparency on maternal and infant health goals.

All the different initiatives fall into the existing Medicaid program, a spokeswoman for the agency said in an email, and there are no specific cost impacts associated with them at this time.