A newly signed Rhode Island bill is projected to positively impact the maternal mortality rate in that state, particularly for women of color. Dubbed the Doula Bill, it will make doula services eligible for reimbursement through private insurance plans. The services will also be covered by Medicaid.
In a ceremonial signing at Providence Community Health Center in the state’s capital, bill sponsor Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell celebrated the culmination of three years of advocacy. She noted, “It’s unacceptable that women of color and particularly Black women are dying at rates three to four times higher than white women. All women deserve a safe and healthy childbirth experience. Doulas are a proven solution, and improving women’s access to them will go a long way toward getting women, particularly women of color, and their babies off to a strong and safe start.”
Ranglin-Vassell knows personally what it’s like to experience a life-threatening pregnancy-related complication as a woman of color. When she was just five days postpartum following the birth of her twin boys, she suddenly developed “the worst headache of my life. I remember opening the freezer and putting my head in there. I had a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a (brain) aneurysm, so for me to be standing here today to sign this bill into law, this is important for women who will get to live.”
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cite a maternal mortality rate of 12.4 deaths per 100,000 live births for white women, that number triples when it comes to women of color, whose maternal mortality rate is 40 deaths per 100,000 live births. Black women are twice as likely as white women to experience life-threatening pregnancy complications.
Doulas seek to close that gap by serving women in a non-medical support role that helps them to successfully advocate for themselves, whether at prenatal visits or during their labor and delivery experience. Susie Finnerty, a doula who was present at the bill signing, stated, “My job is to sit and listen. I hear their hopes and fears. That’s the missing piece in medicine. My role is to tell them their concerns are valid.”
Governor Dan McKee commented of the bill, “I am proud to sign legislation that will improve labor and delivery outcomes, particularly for women of color in Rhode Island. Doula services have time and again demonstrated their ability to save lives and provide the level of care mothers and their babies need.” He went on, “It probably should have been passed a long time ago. Women of color have been disadvantaged in this place and the data shows it, so I never shy away from facts. And what we are going to see now is progress in terms of the health of our families.”
Live Action News previously reported on a Virginia program also seeking to improve access to doula care for women of color. That program represents a temporary partnership between a county health department and two local doula organizations to cover the costs of doula care for successful applicants.
In May, Live Action News highlighted another pro-woman, pro-child, pro-family initiative in Rhode Island as an organization that seeks to meet the maternal health and wellness needs of moms in that state won top honors, including a substantial cash prize, in the Rhode Island Business Competition.
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