Advocates call for equity in healthcare system with doula coverage bill


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — This week is Black Maternal Health Week and some advocates are looking to create structural changes.

Research shows Black infant mortality and severe complications during birth is higher for Black moms and their babies than it is for white moms and infants.

Women & Infants OBGYN Dr. Ben Brown said it’s not enough to just identify this as an equity issue. He said this isn’t about race, it’s about racism.

It’s something that he said has been engrained into the healthcare framework.

Brown said it’s up to medical professionals and legislators to intentionally rebuild the system and create policies that include those who have been excluded in the past, such as Black moms.

“That extends from the way that folks are listened to in terms of the pain that they’re experiencing and the way that’s treated,” he explained. “The way folks are listened to when they report red flags.”

The maternal mortality rate in Rhode Island was 20.1 per 100,000 live births in Rhode Island, according to Brown.

“Unfortunately, Rhode Island’s maternal mortality rate is one of the higher ones in New England,” he said.

Also in Rhode Island, Black moms are 83% more likely to experience severe complications at birth than white moms. This is why lawmakers are pushing for proposed legislation to change that.

“That would make sure doula services are covered by both Medicaid and private payers,” State Rep. Liana Cassar said.

Cassar, a sponsor of the bill, said it’s all about equal access. She said doulas are coaches that help mothers before, during and after birth and this bill would reimburse them for their services.

“Up until now, that access has been driven by your ability to pay out of pocket and that certainly keeps a certain part of the population unavailable – inaccessible to this important service,” she said.

The bill asked for $112,000 to start and went before the House Finance Committee on Wednesday. It is being held for further study.

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