Mar 7, 2024 - News

Gov. Sanders creates committee focused on state's maternal health

A photo of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signing an executive order while holding a baby, flanked by women and children.

Screenshot: Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' Facebook livestream.

Cradling a baby in one arm, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday signed an executive order to "support moms, protect babies and improve maternal health."

Why it matters: Arkansas had the highest known rate of maternal mortality in the U.S. from 2018 to 2021, according to the CDC.

  • Stunning stat: More than 43 mothers out of every 100,000 live births died during that span.

State of play: The order creates the Arkansas Strategic Committee for Maternal Health to work with lawmakers, health care providers and advocacy groups to develop a statewide maternal health plan.

  • The plan is to suss out strategies that will jumpstart education on existing prenatal and postpartum health care availability, increase service access and improve statewide data coordination.

The order also includes a list of directives for the state departments of Health, Human Services and Arkansas Surgeon General Kay Chandler to immediately enroll people in available health coverage, develop an ad campaign and look for ways to expand telehealth, home visiting and doulas.

The big picture: States are required to provide pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage for 60 days postpartum. Congress in 2021 passed a law making it easier for states to extend postpartum eligibility to 12 months. The policy is seen as a key strategy to reduce maternal mortality.

Zoom in: Idaho, Iowa and Wisconsin are remaining holdouts along with Arkansas. Sanders said last month she doesn't support expanding Medicaid coverage past 60 days, a sentiment she repeated Wednesday saying it would create a "redundant program."

What they're saying: "Medicaid already pays for 19,000 births each year — more than half of the births in the state," she said.

  • "The solution is not more government programs. The solution is getting women to take advantage of the programs that we already have."

Sanders noted that mothers who make up to 214% above the federal poverty line are eligible for benefits and that care is available at 70 health units around the state with "zero out-of-pocket expenses."

What's next: The committee is required to provide Sanders with a draft strategic plan in six months.

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