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Maternal health roundtable with state leaders held at UAMS

Nathan Treece
Little Rock Public Radio

State leaders met with medical experts for a roundtable discussion on maternal health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Wednesday morning. Arkansas has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the nation.

Panelists spoke on many specific issues, but said the biggest barriers to maternal health are awareness, education, and access. Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders says many risk factors go unnoticed because women do not meet with providers early on.

"We have a vast number of women who are not seeing a doctor," said Sanders. "In fact, one in five women in the state of Arkansas are not seeing a doctor until they are actually in labor.”

Dr. Lanita White, CEO of Community Health Centers of Arkansas, said the access issue not only comes down to problems like distance, transportation, or awareness but also that many issues surrounding pregnancy are stigmatized.

"If we are having conversations with— and in this case we're talking about women and maternal health, but with patients in general, about substance abuse, about mental health issues, about sexual health, it becomes a normal part of the conversation, just like we talk about everybody’s blood pressure."

White says community health centers are available to women regardless of their ability to pay. There are more than 190 community health centers across Arkansas. You can find a full list online.

Dr. Nirvana Manning, Chair and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UAMS, said about two-thirds of maternal deaths happen postpartum.

"The mom is the unit of all of that," said Manning, "and when she's falling apart, everything kind of falls apart. So we really need to figure— we need to assess ways that we can wrap around that mom, not only in that immediate postpartum period, 60 days, but along the long trajectory.”

Last year, a bill that would have expanded postpartum Medicaid coverage failed in the Arkansas Legislature. Speaking to reporters after the panel discussion, Gov. Sanders said options other than Medicaid are available to Arkansas mothers following those 60 days.

"We want to see that coverage continue, whether that's through the private marketplace or other Medicaid options, those are already available, we just need to do a better job of moving those moms onto those other coverage opportunities,” Sanders said.

After postpartum Medicaid coverage ends, Arkansas mothers may be eligible for ARHOME, the state’s Medicaid expansion program, or through plans available through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Advocates for extending postpartum Medicaid coverage in Arkansas say requiring mothers to reapply only adds additional stress to an already stressful time.

Copyright 2024 Little Rock Public Radio. To see more, visit Little Rock Public Radio.

Nathan Treece
Formally KUAR, news from the staff of content partners Little Rock Public Radio at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. They are a NPR member station.