On Tuesday, August 9, Gov. Hutchinson held a press conference to announce initiatives to address child welfare and maternal health care. You can watch the press conference here.
We are glad Governor Hutchinson took the time to reveal new initiatives to improve maternal health through the Arkansas Department of Health and the Arkansas Department of Human Services.
However, expanding access to services, while beneficial during pregnancy and immediately postpartum, does not address the challenge of many new mothers losing their health care coverage just 60 days after giving birth or the long time many Medicaid-eligible women are waiting to be approved.
Additionally, we know that WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) is difficult to enroll in for many families. While we applaud the plan for the Arkansas Department of Health to refer eligible women who call the new resource hotline to apply for WIC, we need to know how the state plans to make WIC easier to obtain and use.
The Governor’s proposals are a step in the right direction, but they fall short of making policy changes that could make a significant difference in our dismal maternal and infant health outcomes.
- Give all Medicaid-eligible pregnant women full health care coverage for 12 months after they give birth, as approved by CMS last year. Most states already do this or are in the process of implementing it, and we would get a federal match.
- Allow pregnant women to get Medicaid eligibility approval more quickly. Most states already do that, too. Pregnant women in Arkansas are waiting months, long past the federal requirement, for approval. Delays in prenatal care can have serious health consequences for women and babies.
- Enact state-level policy changes that make the WIC program more accessible for Arkansas families to apply, receive and use their WIC benefits.