April 21, 2021

Duckworth, Kelly, Durbin, Underwood Meet With Maternal and Child Health Groups & Dr. Ezike to Discuss Ground-Breaking Illinois Efforts to Improve Health Outcomes for New Moms


Thanks to the lawmakers’ leadership, waiver will extend health care coverage for new moms on Medicaid in Illinois from 60 days after pregnancy to a full year

[WASHINGTON D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), U.S. Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL-02 U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), and U.S. Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14) met virtually with national and Illinois-based maternal and child health advocates, as well as Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, to discuss last week’s approval of Illinois’ 1115 waiver, which will extend health care coverage for new moms on Medicaid in Illinois from 60 days after pregnancy to a full year.  In February 2020, Durbin and Kelly led 14 members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation in sending a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), requesting approval for Illinois’ effort to expand Medicaid health coverage for new moms.  Illinois is the first state in the nation to offer expanded Medicaid eligibility to new moms for a full year after their pregnancy. 

“It is absolutely wrong that hundreds of expectant and new moms are dying every year from preventable causes in this country,” Duckworth said.  “For Black women especially, the rising maternal mortality rate and medical racism in our country is a crisis. I’m so pleased the Biden Administration took action to make sure that this much-needed healthcare safety net will be available to Illinoisans on Medicaid, and I hope it leads to better birth outcomes and helps prevent maternal mortality. Thank you to all of those who have been in this fight for so long for everything they do, and have done, for Illinois families and for making this waiver a reality. It will save lives.”

“It is unconscionable that the U.S. is one of only 13 countries where maternal mortality rates are worse today than 25 years ago.  And where women of color in Illinois are up to six times more likely to die as a result of their pregnancy, often from preventable causes.  But, here’s the good news: thanks to the efforts of so many, we are starting to finally make progress,” Durbin said.  “Illinois was the first state in the nation to expand Medicaid for new moms, but I sure hope we aren’t the last.”

“Expanding access to postpartum care for women who qualify for Medicaid coverage is a lifesaving measure for mothers and babies,” said Kelly.  “We still have work to do to provide all women with access to quality healthcare when they need it, not only when they can afford it. We are fortunate to have a wonderful community of maternal health advocates who are working to overcome the health disparities Black women and women of color face in this country. Together we will ensure that all mothers and babies receive equitable healthcare. I am so proud that Illinois is the first state to take this critical step, and I hope that other states will soon follow.”

“In Illinois, Black women and birthing people are dying from pregnancy-related causes at six times the rate of white women. It’s unacceptable. As we work towards solutions to improve maternal health outcomes, extending postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 1 year is a critical step to making sure Illinois moms have access to the care and support they need and deserve for the full postpartum period. I’m thankful for the work of my colleagues and many others who have helped Illinois become the first to take this historic step, and I look forward to continuing our work together to save lives and achieve true birth equity for all moms,” said Underwood.

Groups that participated in the meeting include: Illinois American Academy of Pediatrics; Illinois American College of OB/GYNs; Illinois Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses; Illinois Perinatal Quality Collaborative; Cook County Health; Illinois Health and Hospital Association; Everthrive IL; American College of OB/GYNs; American Medical Association; National Partnership for Women & Families; Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs; National Birth Equity Collaborative; and March of Dimes.

For the past two congresses, Duckworth and Kelly—along with Durbin—have introduced the bicameral Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness (MOMMA’s) Act, which seeks to improve maternal and infant health outcomes, especially for women and babies of color.  One of the main provisions of this legislation is ensuring that new moms can remain on Medicaid health coverage for a full year after their pregnancy, versus just 60 days.  Further, thanks to Duckworth, Durbin, Kelly, and Underwood’s leadership, the American Rescue Plan included a provision to give states a five-year option to extend health care coverage for new moms on Medicaid from 60 days after pregnancy to a full year.  In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this provision will help improve and save the lives of new mothers—especially women of color who are at increased risk of serious complications, or even death, because of their pregnancy.  

The United States is one of only 13 countries in the world where the maternal mortality rate is worse now that it was 25 years ago and is the only industrialized country with a rising maternal mortality rate.  These shocking statistics cut across geography, education level, income, and socio-economic status. On average, maternal mortality claims the lives of about 700 American moms each year—an additional 70,000 women suffer near-fatal health complications—with more than 60 percent of these deaths being preventable.  Women of color are particularly at risk—nationwide, Black women are two to three times more likely than white women to suffer pregnancy-related deaths.

Maternal and infant mortality is especially important to Illinois families.  According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), on average, 73 new Illinois mothers die every year, with more than 70 percent of these deaths deemed preventable. While Illinois’ maternal mortality rate is slightly lower than the national average, the disparity of Black mothers dying is nearly double the national disparity.  According to the IDPH, Black mothers in Illinois die at 600 percent the rate of their white counterparts.

The importance of passing this provision has become even more vital given that the ongoing global health pandemic which has both disproportionately impacted our communities of color, and left many pregnant and postpartum women searching for answers about how best to protect themselves and their children.