In his Proclamation of Black Maternal Health Week, President Biden stressed his commitment to policies and practices that make pregnancy and childbirth safer for Black women. We wanted to learn more about what his administration is doing to eliminate the racial disparities that exist in maternal healthcare.
The Root talks with Carole Johnson of Biden’s Administration:
So The Root spoke exclusively with Carole Johnson, Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. HRSA focuses on health equity and care for people who are geographically isolated, economically or medically underserved.
Johnson shared the Biden administration’s commitment to eliminating racial disparities in maternal health care as well as her agency’s plan to provide better options to support women and children in traditionally underserved and under-resourced communities.
According to data from the CDC, Black women are more than three times as likely to die from a pregnancy related cause than white women. Johnson says that as policymakers, the administration is leaning into ways they can make a difference. “It is unacceptable that there are huge disparities in outcomes for Black women versus white women when it comes to maternal health,” she said. “As a nation, we have to do better.”
How Biden’s Administration Will Help Mothers:
Johnson says the administration recognizes that providing access to quality healthcare is one of the best ways to ensure healthy pregnancies and births. They are working to continue to build on the Affordable Care Act to expand the health care coverage that moms receive. They have also extended the length of coverage moms receive through Medicaid from 60 days to one-year post-pregnancy. “One of the key things we’ve identified is that Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) pay for about 40 percent of births in the country. The health needs of women don’t end 60 days post-pregnancy. We need to make sure that women continue to get that care and service,” she says.
Johnson’s agency is also responsible for the country’s Community Health Center Program, which provides healthcare to almost 30 million people in underserved communities. She says they have placed an increased emphasis on making sure those centers are supporting women’s health.
In addition to their physical health, Johnson says the Biden administration has prioritized caring for the mental health needs of mothers that are often overlooked. “Through the Maternal Depression Access Program, we work with our partners in the states to train health providers on identifying the early symptoms and how to best help treat maternal depression,” she says. “We have a teleconsult line that allows OBs to get direct help from a mental health professional. That will help them identify how to best support their patients.” Johnson says this initiative has been able to significantly reduce the time it takes a mother to get an appointment with a mental health professional if needed.
The White House Is Investing in community-based doulas:
Through the American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration is providing more access to community-based doulas who can support and advocate for mothers during their pregnancy. They recently announced a nearly $5 million investment in more community-based doulas that will help expand the current program to all states. “I’ve had an opportunity to meet with community-based doulas. It’s just so clear, particularly when the doula is a member of the community they serve, that people reach out to them and ask them questions they might not ask their clinician. And [moms] get the support they might not otherwise get,” she says.
The President’s 2023 budget proposes even more resources that will benefit mothers of color. “We have another investment of 20 million dollars to grow the doula workforce. There is also another 25 million-dollar investment in the nursing workforce focused on certified nurse midwives,” she says. Johnson says
Will Biden Get the Support He Needs to Help Black Mothers?
Johnson explained that President Biden is also committed to addressing the social determinants that influence health outcomes, including transportation and housing issues, and has a $55 million proposal in the budget to address those concerns. Although the 2023 budget will need the approval of Congress, Johnson is confident that there are enough members who will support the plan. “There are so many women leaders in Congress who have made this a priority, that we’re really excited about the opportunities,” she says.
Johnson says she is proud to be a part of an administration that is focused on supporting healthy outcomes for Black women and children, something she says will benefit the entire country. “We recognize that you can’t expect people to succeed both economically and in their health outcomes if you don’t provide the necessary support. When we have the right support for women and children, we get better economic development and outcomes as well. Everyone should be vested in that.”