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Bipartisan Ky. bill introduced to support maternal and infant health

Republican Rep. Kim Moser gestures to a broad coalition of women in the legislature who are in support of her legislation to support pregnant women in Kentucky on Wednesday Jan. 17, 2024.
Sylvia Goodman
Republican Rep. Kim Moser gestures to a broad coalition of women in the legislature who support her legislation helping pregnant women in Kentucky on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024.

The so-called “Momnibus” bill would bolster maternal health in the state by improving insurance coverage for pregnant people, expanding mental health services and increasing access to educational services.

Republican Rep. Kim Moser of Taylor Mill stood with a bipartisan group of women lawmakers to introduce a bill to improve health care outcomes for mothers and their newborn children.

Moser said she and a coalition of women have been meeting for months to put together the legislation to begin improving the state’s alarming maternal health outcomes. Moser noted that Kentucky has among the highest maternal mortality rates in the country.

“Experts who we've talked to and we've worked with through this process all say that nearly all maternal deaths are preventable,” Moser said.

In 2018, Kentucky’s maternal mortality rate was about 41 per 100,000 live births — nationally, the average is around 17, according to the University of Louisville. Moser said her bill is a step in closing that gap.

House Bill 10 would add pregnancy to the list of “qualifying life events” for health insurance coverage, meaning pregnancy would trigger a special enrollment period to give pregnant people more options in their coverage.

It would also create and fund the “Lifeline for Moms” psychiatric program. The program would provide training and consultations for healthcare providers to improve care for pregnant and postpartum women.

Moser said her experience as a former neonatal intensive care nurse informed her interest in improving care for all women.

“I was able to really see some of the reasons for health disparities, especially in the poorer areas of our state,” Moser said.

The bill also provides for an expansion of lactation, sleep safety and other training through the HANDS, or Health Access Nurturing Development Services, program. The bill would expand it to include tele-health services, which Moser said she hoped would increase its use in underserved communities.

In support of the legislation, Addia Wuchner, the executive director of Kentucky Right to Life and a former state representative, said she commended the lawmakers putting the bill forward. She highlighted the expansion of HANDS as an important measure.

"It is long overdue. It is meaningful," Wuchner said. "What do we have to do to improve outcomes for moms and babes in Kentucky?"

When Wutchner came up to speak in support of the legislation, a few of the Democrats who stood in support of the bill at a press conference Wednesday promptly left the room.

Rep. Sarah Stalker, a Democrat from Louisville, who is an architect of the insurance expansion under the bill, remained. Stalker said she knew bipartisan support and a strong coalition would be needed to protect Kentucky women, especially in the wake of the state’s near-total abortion ban. Stalker voted against the ban and remains in favor of abortion access.

“If we’re going to force people to have children when they are not prepared to, when they are not ready to, when they are not interested in starting a family, it is critical we give them the access to the health insurance so that they can get the health care,” Stalker said. “That’s just where we are as a state.”

Stalker previously filed a similar bill with the insurance element — it passed committee last year but did not receive a floor vote. She said she’s hopeful this year will be different. Republican Speaker Rep. David Osborne of Prospect has previously said the bill would be a priority for the House this year.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.

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