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Governor Northam Previews Maternal Mortality Budget Priorities

Governor Ralph Northam, surrounded by lawmakers, healthcare providers, mothers, and excited children.
Governor Ralph Northam, surrounded by lawmakers, healthcare providers, mothers, and excited children, announces budget priorities aimed at addressing maternal mortality issues. (Photo - VPM News, Patrick Larsen)

*VPM News intern Patrick Larsen reported this story.

In a budget preview on Monday, Governor Ralph Northam announced an investment of almost $22 million for maternal and infant health care in Virginia.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, black women are at least twice as likely to die during or after childbirth than white women. Dr. Aaliyah Samuel, a mother who had a miscarriage more than a decade ago, still sees the same problems in Virginia today as she did back then.

“During my first birth,” she said, “I experienced discrimination, implicit bias from health care professionals.”

The Governor’s office held a series of public listening meetings across the state to engage with people like Samuel, in order to shape their proposals.

“It was important for us to start this process by listening,” Northam said. “Especially to those communities impacted most by these disparities.”

One of the issues they addressed was that of community care, like doula services —  that’s childbirth and postpartum care provided by someone without formal obstetric training. Currently, Medicaid does not cover those services.

The proposed budget includes a provision for the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to look into Medicaid benefits for women who choose to use in-home care, and set aside $12.8 million to reimburse mothers for those costs.

Samuel expressed relief at those proposals.

“We know home visitation serves as a bridge and support to so many families,” she said.

The budget will dedicate $3.2 million to extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days to up to one year following childbirth.

“Most of the maternal deaths are happening more than 43 days after the delivery,” said Dr. Makunda Abdul-Mbacke, an OB-GYN from Ridgeway, Virginia.

Abdul-Mbacke also said new mothers face problems that don’t necessarily go away in a year — adding that the Commonwealth could further lengthen the coverage to protect them. But ultimately, she said one year of coverage is a big improvement.

The budget will also set aside money to provide treatment for mothers struggling with addiction, increase access to contraceptives and address racial disparities in treatment in the Commonwealth.


VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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