Bipartisan ‘momnibus’ bill aims to improve health of mothers, kids

Kentucky Health News

Legislators are accustomed to seeing “omnibus” bills that deal with many subjects, sometimes related, sometimes not. Now the Kentucky General Assembly has a “momnibus” bill intended to improve the health of children and mothers, including expectant ones.

House Bill 10 was developed by an informal, bipartisan group of female legislators concerned about the state’s poor maternal health, said its main sponsor, Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill.

“Addressing Kentucky’s high maternal mortality rate and saving mothers and babies is obviously a priority for all of us,” Moser said at a Wednesday press conference. Kentucky had the nation’s sixth-highest maternal death rate, 38.4 deaths per 100,000 live births, from 2018 through 2021. The national rate for that period was 23.5 per 100,000.

More than 90% of the state’s maternal deaths are preventable, Dr. Jeffrey M. Goldberg, legislative advocacy chair of the Kentucky chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told a state Senate committee last year. Just over 14 percent of Kentuckians lack access to adequate prenatal care, according to the March of Dimes.

Moser, a mother of five who was a neonatal intensive-care nurse, spoke from her own experiences: “I’ve really worked with mothers and babies and sick newborns, in their newborn phase, oftentimes through their first year, and I was able to really see some of the reasons for poor health disparities, especially in our poor areas of our state.”

Citing the advocacy group Every Mother Counts, Moser said, “The leading causes of maternal death in the U.S. [are] lack of access to health care, including a shortage of caregivers, a lack of insurance, inadequate postpartum supports and certainly socioeconomic disparities, including the stress of racism and discrimination.” In Kentucky, she added, the risks are greater because of the prevalence of heart disease and diabetes.

HB 10 would:

  • Add pregnancy to the list of “qualifying life events” that allow people to get health insurance coverage outside normal enrolment, which could encourage more prenatal care.
  • Create the Lifeline for Moms Psychiatry Access Program, for which Kentucky has received a $750,000 grant. Moser said she will also ask for an appropriation in the state budget “to make sure that’s a sustainable program.” It would be required to operate a hotline from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
  • Expand the HANDS (Health Access Nurturing Development Services) home-visitation program for new and expectant parents to include breastfeeding counseling and assistance, education on safe sleep, as well as expanding the program to include telehealth, which Moser said she believes will help “reach moms in underserved areas or areas where she may have a transportation issue.”
  • Require the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to study and make recommendations about the role of doulas, who provide assistance with the birth experience.
  • Strengthen an advisory council that provides policy guidance to increase collaboration, improve data collection, and suggest additional improvements.

Some Kentucky Republican legislators began paying more attention to such issues after the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the federal right to abortion, activating a state “trigger law” that bans abortion except to save the mother’s life or prevent permanent damage to a life-sustaining organ.

“The wide gulf between abortion-rights and anti-abortion lawmakers was felt when Moser invited Addia Wuchner, executive director of the Kentucky Right to Life Association, to speak at the end of the press conference,” reports Rebecca Grapevine of the Courier Journal. “That prompted most of the assembled Democratic lawmakers . . . to quietly walk out of the room.”

One Democrat who remained, Rep. Sarah Stalker of Louisville, told the Courier Journal, “If we’re going to force people to have children when they are not prepared to, when they are not ready to, when they are not interested in the family, it is critical that we give them the access to the health insurance . . . It doesn’t help me and it doesn’t help Kentucky, you know, Kentuckians at large and particularly women, to dig in my heels.”

The second listed sponsor of the bill is Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, a leading anti-abortion legislator. Other Republican sponsors are Reps. Danny Bentkey of Russell, Emily Callaway of Louisville, Stephanie Dietz of Edgewood, Robert Duvall of Bowling Green, Ken Fleming of Louisville, Mark Hart of Falmouth, Kiom KIng of Harrodsburg, Amy Neighbors of Edmonton, Rebecca Raymer of Morgantown, Tom Smith of Corbin, Nick Wilson of Williamsburg and Susan Witten of Louisville.

Besides Stalker, the bill’s Democratic sponsors are Reps. Lindsey Burke and Cherlynn Stevenson of Lexington. Democratic Reps. Lisa Willner of Louisville and Rachel Roberts of Newport initially attended the press conference but left and are not listed as sponsors.

Information for this story was also provided by the Kentucky Lantern.

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