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Six Months Since Medicaid Expansion, Virginia’s Medicaid Agency Shifts Focus to Eligible Pregnant Women

Virginia's Medicaid Director Dr. Jennifer Lee
On Monday, Virginia's Medicaid Director Dr. Jennifer Lee announced a new initiative to help enroll more eligible pregnant women in Medicaid.

 On Monday, Virginia’s Medicaid agency announced a new strategy called ‘healthy birthday Virginia’ focusing on the health of new moms and their babies. It’s part of Governor Ralph Northam’s goal of eliminating racial disparities in the maternal and infant mortality rates by 2025.

“There remain stark racial disparities for African American mothers and their babies rooted in generations of racism and historical barriers to quality health care for people of color,” said Jennifer Lee, Director of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS). “We have to face the sad fact that these disparities still exist today, but the good news is that for five decades Medicaid has been an agent for change and advancing health equity.”

DMAS plans to launch a targeted outreach campaign this fall to educate women about Medicaid eligibility, and the importance of prenatal and postpartum healthcare. They also plan to streamline the enrollment process for pregnant women and increase the number and percentage of pregnant and postpartum members with a substance use disorder.

Since enrollment through Medicaid expansion began January 1st, 296,000 Virginians have been enrolled in coverage. 60 percent of those new enrollees have been women.

“Medicaid expansion sets the stage for this new initiative because thousands more women in Virginia now have uninterrupted care in Virginia,” said Daniel Carey, Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources.

DMAS also celebrated their own 50th anniversary Monday. They now serve nearly 1.4 million Virginians and provide healthcare coverage for one in three births across the state.

“From the very beginning, the health of mothers and children has been central to our mission,” said Jennifer Lee, Director of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS). “And our commitment to these members takes on a new urgency today.”

Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam called on state agencies including DMAS to address the racial disparity in maternal and infant mortality.

“People ask me a lot as I travel around Virginia, is healthcare a right or is it a privilege?” said Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. “And my answer is very simple: it’s a right.”

WCVE intern Patrick Larsen contributed to this report.