RELEASE: Providers and Advocates Express Dismay Over Idaho Legislature’s Inaction on the Growing Health Needs of Pregnant Women

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Lawmakers are preparing to go home without advancing key maternal health bills

Boise, ID – On Tuesday, Chairman John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, announced plans for lawmakers to go home without advancing legislation aimed at improving maternal health. Local healthcare providers and advocates are expressing dismay over alarming maternal mortality trends and lawmakers’ inaction on bills that address the growing needs of pregnant women during the 2023 Legislative Session.

“Idaho lost a huge opportunity to support pregnant women when they most need care, and at a time when we anticipate an increase in births. The number of pregnancy-related deaths is growing at an alarming rate across our state. From 2019 to 2021, Idaho’s maternal mortality rate doubled each year,” explained Noreen Womack, a pediatrician in Idaho. “Providing women with consistent health coverage before, during, and after pregnancy increases access to preventive care, reduces maternal mortality rates, and improves infant health outcomes. Yet Idaho cuts Medicaid coverage off for women at just 60 days postpartum.”

Idaho Voices for Children, a leading health policy nonprofit, worked with several legislators to draft a bill aimed at improving Idaho’s lagging maternal and infant health trends. The
legislation, House Bill 201, increases access to public health coverage for low-income pregnant women and extends postpartum coverage from 60 days to a full 12 months.

“At the beginning of the 2023 Legislative Session, there was a strong appetite to pass policies that meaningfully support the health of pregnant women. We were thrilled when the House majority leader agreed to sponsor the bill,” explained Hillarie Hagen, health policy associate at Idaho Voices for Children and lead coordinator of Idaho Kids Covered.

“We spent the last three months securing enough support to pass House Bill 201 and get it signed into law. I believed we would be celebrating a new law that saves the lives of Idaho moms and babies at the end of session, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.”

In the House Health & Welfare Committee on Tuesday, Chairman Vander Woude announced that he would not hold a hearing on House Bill 201, despite numerous phone calls and emails from bill supporters and legislators urging action. Vander Woude cited concerns over investing in Medicaid, a public program he wants to first “get control of,” despite being in support of House Bill 201.

Earlier in the session, the same House Health & Welfare Committee held another bill related to the health of pregnant women, House Bill 81. House Bill 81 would renew the Idaho Maternal Mortality Review Committee, a federally funded research group created four years ago to study maternal deaths in Idaho and whether a death could have been prevented. Because House Bill 81 failed to advance this session, the research group will end in July, and Idaho will be the only state in the nation without a Maternal Mortality Review Committee.

“Throughout this fall’s election season, candidates across Idaho campaigned on promises to increase support for pregnant women and their newborns. It’s hard to make sense of the politics behind the ultimate inaction on key maternal health bills. This is legislation we know will save lives, and it has significant public support behind it,” said Patricia Kempthorne, a board member for Idaho Children Are Primary. “As the Idaho Legislature puts off addressing the growing needs of pregnant women, our maternal mortality trends will continue their downhill trajectory. This does not reflect the Idaho values I and many of my neighbors hold dear. I don’t understand why lawmakers aren’t listening to Idahoans.”

The policy effort to address Idaho’s growing maternal health crisis began last summer, as providers and advocates highlighted the increasing needs of pregnant women. This fall, Idaho Kids Covered released a report based on national research and the Idaho Maternal Mortality Review Committee’s recent findings that emphasized policy recommendations to prevent unnecessary pregnancy-related deaths. Hundreds of advocates, experts, and stakeholders have since come together to support these policy recommendations, including women who have suffered during pregnancy due to lack of health coverage. After House Bill 201 was introduced, the public sent over a thousand emails and phone calls to legislators urging passage of the bill.

“Idaho is ranked last in the nation in providing affordable health insurance for pregnant and postpartum women. As health advocates, we started the session hopeful that we could change this narrative and join the many other states that are passing these important policies,” concluded Hillarie Hagen. “We are incredibly disheartened by the failure of maternal health policies to advance out of the House Health & Welfare Committee, knowing there was widespread support. Idaho moms and babies deserve better.”


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Idaho Maternal and Infant Healthcare Report 2023

Idaho Kids Covered originally published our Idaho Maternal and Infant Health Report in the fall of 2022.
One year later, maternal and infant health needs in Idaho have only grown. Yet, when we look at state trends, almost every single health data metric included in our last report has continued in the wrong direction.

More pregnant women, new moms, and babies in our state are dying—but most of these deaths are preventable. Idaho policymakers have the opportunity to consider what the data shows about the needs of families and act now to advance a set of broad state priorities that will improve birth outcomes, the health of infants, and the well-being of moms. Idaho moms and babies simply cannot afford another year of inaction.