Arkansas governor announces new maternal health, foster care initiatives
Arkansas is asking the Biden Administration for permission to expand its Medicaid program to offer new maternal healthcare initiatives.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday the state is seeking a waiver to allow for some pregnant Medicaid recipients to receive home visits before and after birth. He said the state plans to fund more training for “home visitors” and increase payments to foster parents.
In a news conference, Hutchinson said the goal is to reduce the number of children requiring neonatal care, and ultimately improve the state’s child mortality rate.
“An additional 5,000 pregnant women will be eligible for in-home visits, visitation, [and] intensive care coordinated services before and after birth. Our rural hospitals can coordinate these services, and if a pregnancy is identified as high-risk, then this level of intensive care will be available,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson says the plan will cost roughly $19 million per year overall, with Arkansas paying for about $5.5 million. He says the state is also raising the income cutoff for pregnant people to receive traditional Medicaid coverage to 212% of the federal poverty level, up from the current 133%.
Hutchinson says in Arkansas, where coverage for some pregnant Medicaid recipients is limited only to the child and to pregnancy-related health conditions, the state’s proposal means non-pregnancy related conditions like mental health disorders would now be covered.
“It is important after birth that the mom has more complete healthcare coverage during that time as well. That will save children’s lives, as well as the health of the mom,” Hutchinson said. “The health of the mom, the mental well-being of the mom, is directly related to the well-being of the child. And so when we address one, we address both.”
The cost of that expansion, Hutchinson says, is estimated at $1.2 million, of which the state will pay for $350,000. He says that is expected to expand coverage to 2,000 more Arkansans.
Hutchinson says he’s asked the state Department of Health to provide more mental health and childcare training for their 450 personnel who will be conducting home visits before and after birth. He says he expects the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will grant a waiver for the state’s new initiatives, which could be up and running by January if funding is approved by the state legislature.
Hutchinson also announced he hopes to spend just over $10 million to raise payments to foster parents, and to spend $1.7 million to start providing funds to relatives who take in foster children under provisional placements. The Department of Human Services plans to request more general revenue funds to increase all foster care board payments, which currently average about $455 per month, by 10%.
Hutchinson says, while planning for these initiatives started before the state’s “trigger law” banning most abortions went into effect, that change in policy underscores the need for better maternal and child healthcare.
“Last year in Arkansas we had 3,000 abortions. Except for those that involve the life of the mother, those are going to be prohibited. And so you’re going to have potentially up to 3,000 new births this year in circumstances in which the mom might otherwise consider an abortion,” Hutchinson said. “Those would be at-risk pregnancies, they might have other issues there. And so that’s obviously cause for [an] increased level of investment and support.”
Hutchinson says the Department of Health has also launched a pregnancy and parenting resource hotline, which can be reached at 1-855-ARK-MOMS.
A statement from the nonprofit Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families said, while the changes are beneficial, they do not address long wait times for Medicaid approval or the problem of new parents losing healthcare coverage 60 days after giving birth.
"Additionally, we know that WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) is difficult to enroll in for many families. While we applaud the Department of Human Services plan to refer eligible women who call the new resource hotline to apply for WIC, we need to know how they plan to make WIC easier to obtain and use," the statement reads.
The statement urges the state to extend post-partum Medicaid coverage to 12 months, to allow pregnant people to be approved for Medicaid faster, and to make state-level policy changes to make the WIC program more accessible.