The United States Capitol building

April Policy Roundup

Women's Health Policy

1. HealthyWomen advocates for continued access to telehealth

This month, The Hill published an Op-Ed written by HealthyWomen Senior Policy Advisor Martha Nolan, J.D., about the importance of continued access to telehealth. Nolan wrote that telehealth has been a lifeline for many people, especially those who can’t easily get to a healthcare provider’s office or who can’t afford to take time off to get to in-person appointments. But many people with lower incomes and people without access to high-speed internet haven’t gotten the benefits of remote care. Nolan applauded state and federal policies that allowed greater flexibility and more coverage for telehealth and called for strengthening telehealth infrastructure and making telehealth access a permanent fixture in American healthcare.

2. In comments on the CDC’s proposed opioid prescribing guidelines, HealthyWomen continues to press for nonopioid pain management options

In early April, HealthyWomen offered public comments on proposed opioid prescribing guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The proposed guidelines acknowledge that women are more likely than men to fill an opioid prescription but also that women may still be at increased risk for inadequate pain management. HealthyWomen shared results of a 2019 survey showing that women want noninvasive, non-medication options to treat pain. HealthyWomen urged federal agencies to work together to make sure these types of nonaddictive options are available. HealthyWomen reiterated our support for the SUPPORT Act (Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act), which was designed to expand treatment options while curbing opioid overuse.

3. The White House recognized Black Maternal Health Week

April 11 to 17, 2022, was Black Maternal Health Week. The White House officially recognized this important event with a proclamation of the administration’s commitment to improving health equity and safety for Black families. HealthyWomen proudly supports this week and the effort to raise awareness of the maternal health crisis, which disproportionately affects Black mothers in the United States. Black women have a mortality rate of 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births compared to 19.1 for white women. In a statement, HealthyWomen urged Congress to pass maternal health provisions in the Black Momnibus Act, the Build Back Better Act and the IMPROVE Act of 2022. These bills would provide funding to improve quality of care and reduce racial and ethnic health disparities.

4. Hospitals can get new “Birthing-Friendly” designation

Starting in 2023, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will designate hospitals that meet certain criteria in maternal health as “birthing-friendly.” The new maternal morbidity measure, which was announced this month, will be based on data that hospitals will submit about their participation in and adherence to certain perinatal safety practices and approaches to managing birth complications. The designation will help patients identify hospitals that have committed to maternal safety and allow them to make informed decisions about where to get maternity care.

5. Medicaid coverage will last for a full year after pregnancy, thanks to new rules

Effective April 1, 2022, American Rescue Plan provisions took effect, giving states the option to extend Medicaid coverage for 12 months following pregnancy. Louisiana is the first state to extend coverage to postpartum people under this program; nine other states are in the process of extending postpartum coverage. The Biden administration noted that the extended coverage could benefit as many as 720,000 pregnant and postpartum people in the United States, but the actual number of beneficiaries will depend on how many states take advantage of the new coverage option. In a statement, HealthyWomen expressed support for this expanded coverage, citing data that show that one-third of all maternal deaths occur within the first year after pregnancy and that the mortality rate is five times higher among Black and Native American women than white women.

6. The Army just became much more flexible for pregnant and postpartum service members and their spouses

This month, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth signed a parenthood, pregnancy and postpartum directive that will expand previous policies and create new ones that support service members and their partners during and after pregnancy. The 12-point directive includes provisions such as paid medical leave when a service member or their spouse has a baby, miscarriage or stillbirth. This provision makes the Army the first branch of the U.S. military to allow time off to grieve a pregnancy loss. Other components include exemptions from height/weight requirements for a longer period of time and from uniform requirements, more frequent lactation breaks, changes in assignments that provide for greater flexibility including during fertility treatments, and protection from being released from active duty after becoming pregnant.

7. Get vaccinated! HealthyWomen applauds the FDA’s authorization of Covid-19 booster shots

This month, HealthyWomen voiced our support for Covid-19 vaccines via written comments to the FDA in advance of its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee meeting. HealthyWomen supports the FDA’s authorization of a second booster shot for people 50 and older and immunocompromised people. The comments also encouraged the FDA to continue looking at whether boosters should be recommended for the broader population. HealthyWomen encouraged adults to get booster shots in accordance with FDA and CDC guidelines and also encouraged people who have not yet been vaccinated for Covid-19 to get their initial vaccine doses.