The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services decided Tuesday to allow the state to expand Medicaid benefits for new parents and pregnant Ohioans.
Instead of just providing postnatal healthcare for 60 days, the new benefits extend up to one year.
Preventing pregnancy-related deaths and complications, by expanding health care coverage is something sorely needed in Cuyahoga County.
The county has had one of the highest infant death rates in the country for 50 years, according to First Year Cleveland. For every white baby that died in Cuyahoga County before they turned one, nearly six Black babies died, the organization reported.
Medicaid reported that around 21,000 people are now eligible in Ohio and Darianna Lorenzi-Sutton is one of them.
So far, Lorenzi-Sutton, said she has had a normal pregnancy, but it has still been eight long months for this expecting mother in Cleveland.
“It’s getting to the point where now I’m tired and I’m like, ‘I’m kind of ready for it to be over,'” Darianna Lorenzi-Sutton said.
Lorenzi-Sutton is about to have her first baby and she’s looking forward to jumping into postnatal care. Support from her family and the Pregnant with Possibilities Resource Center has helped her move smoothly through her pregnancy, she added.
“[I’ve used] a lot of the self-care techniques that we went over in my first class, it’s really been a good tool to have,” the mom-to-be said. “It is good to have that extra support — like I have other people to talk to besides my mom or my grandma.”
She and her boyfriend are expecting their first baby, a girl, in September.
“It is important for us to make sure that our clients have positive birth outcomes, that we can address the barriers.” Veranda Rodgers, the organization’s executive director and founder, said.
Pregnant with Possibilities serves 200 to 250 pregnant families each year, including programs “designed by Black women for Black teens and women.” It also helps provide “culturally competent” sexual health education. They also host events and fundraisers.
“Eighty-seven percent of our clientele is African-American, and about 95% of our clients are from under served populations,” Rodgers added. “What we know is here in Cuyahoga County, African-American women die at 2.5 times the rate for preventable pregnancy-related complications compared to white women.”
Rodgers is citing state data, but in a previous interview with Restoring Our Own Through Transformation (ROOTT), that number isn’t as high as the new data from the state shows.
Black women have twice the number of birth complications as white women do, and they have less access to as many prenatal, birth and postnatal resources, state data showed.
Lorenzi-Sutton is has been a temporary worker for his job for nearly a year, and because of this, she doesn’t have healthcare provided by them.
If she didn’t have Medicaid, she doesn’t know how she would be able to have her baby, she said.
“It is a way for us to be able to ensure that families are supported for longer periods of time and they’re not having to worry about their basic needs being met,” Rodgers said about the extension. “Being able to improve the access to care hopefully has a long term lasting effects on these disparities that we see here in Cuyahoga County.”
While this is a great step, Rodgers said there is still so much to combat in terms of lessening racial disparities — such as addressing systemic racism, educating about warning signs and to take them seriously and requiring and expanding paid leave from work.
But this is a positive start for families like Lorenzi-Sutton’s.
“At least I got time to figure stuff out a little bit more than I did before,” she said. “The 60 days isn’t that long.”
The extension will cover behavioral healthcare, such as postpartum depression and substance use disorder treatment, family planning and chronic disease management.
Lorenzi-Sutton said she is worried about PPD, so having more time is a huge relief.
In addition to this expansion, the Ohio House recently passed a bill to have Medicaid cover other pregnancy-related services.
Republican state Rep. Tom Brinkman, from Mt. Lookout, introduced House Bill 142. The bill was also introduced by former state Rep. Erica Crawley, a Democrat from Columbus, who then took a job as Franklin County commissioner.
Their bill would provide Medicaid coverage for licensed doula services and aims to combat racial disparities in infant and maternal mortality rates. Advocates say doula care can result in lower rates of preterm births and deaths.
The bill will head to the senate this fall.
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