Each Wonks’ Corner, a member of Blue Shield’s government affairs team dives into a current policy topic. See our previous Wonks’ Corner blogs here.

The U.S. is facing a maternal health crisis. The maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is three times the rate as most other high-income countries, and maternal and infant mortality is especially inequitable for Black mothers and their babies:

  • In the U.S., Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes than White women, and over twice as likely than non-Latinx White mothers to receive late or no prenatal care.
  • Black infants in the U.S. are more than twice as likely to die than White infants, which is also true within California, per County Health Rankings.

As a health plan invested in creating a healthcare system worthy of our family and friends, Blue Shield of California is working with partners and communities to address our nation’s maternal health crisis and to improve health equity for new parents and their babies.

Birthing Justice: In partnership with the California Legislative Black Caucus, and Women in the Room Productions, Blue Shield is sponsoring a California film screening tour of the documentary Birthing Justice. The film explores the complex issues fueling the maternal health predicament within the African American community, and advocates for best practices to enhance birthing equity for all women, especially Black women.

At the first screening in Los Angeles, Olympian Allyson Felix shared her pregnancy story and described how she found out she had preeclampsia at 32 weeks and was rushed into the hospital for an emergency C-section. She described it as one of the most frightening moments in her life. She also went on to share how she eventually parted ways with Nike due to her birthing experience.

Dr. Manisha Sharma, Senior Medical Director, Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan, gave powerful remarks on her vision of re-imagining health care, “It’s a vision of transforming care with courage and honesty, by addressing the ongoing racial health inequities head-on, by intentionally investing in a birthing support system for communities, in particular, centering and focusing on our Black communities where infant and maternal mortality rates are higher than any other racial demographic group.”

Birthing Justice will be screening in at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland for Black Maternal Health Week, on April 11.

Maternal Child Health Equity Initiative: In 2022, Blue Shield launched our Maternal Child Health Equity Initiative, a community health-focused initiative that provides community-based resources, doulas, and technology tools to help improve support, care, and family-centered services for mothers, birthing people, and their babies.

Leigh Purry, Senior Program Manager of Community Health, who has led the initiative’s work shared, “Our goal is to support our communities, so they are set up for healthy success. To not only survive but to thrive.”

Black Maternal Health Circles: As part of the Maternal Health Equity initiative, Blue Shield has partnered with the Black Wellness and Prosperity Center to host monthly Black Maternal Health Circles over the course of the past year. These circles were co-designed with Black women to create a safe space for women to share insights from their experiences about community support, navigating health insurance, birthing experiences, prenatal / postpartum care, breastfeeding, online resources, provider experiences, midwives / doula care, and maternal mental health.

Blue Shield will use the learnings from these meetings to build solutions that address the unique health inequities and needs of Black mothers and babies across the state of California.

Policy Advocacy: Blue Shield advocates for policies at the state and federal level that support maternal and infant health. This includes:

  • Participating in California’s Medi-Cal Doula Services Advisory Workgroup, which seeks to make doula services more accessible;
  • Supporting state policies to extend Medi-Cal coverage for 12 months postpartum;
  • Endorsing Representative Lauren Underwood’s (IL-14) Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act (H.R. 959); and,
  • Supporting federal policy that would require up to 12 months of Medicaid coverage postpartum.

We cannot allow a status quo where Black birthing people and their babies continue to face such danger. Blue Shield will continue to push for a health care system that advances maternal health equity.