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State survey says Virginia failing to serve low-income mothers

Nichole Wardlaw, a midwife with the American College of Nurse-Midwives, speaks at a press event at the capital.
Brad Kutner, Radio IQ
Nichole Wardlaw, a midwife with the American College of Nurse-Midwives, speaks at a press event at the capital.

This story was reported and written by Radio IQ.

A new survey from the state shows low-income mothers, supported by subsidized health care plans, aren’t getting the care they’ve been promised.

Kenda Sutton-El is director of Birth in Color and a mother from Virginia’s Northern Neck. Her group supports pregnant Black women across the Commonwealth and said a new study from the state suggests what she’s known all along:

“Instead of saying Black women are three times more likely to die, we have to start using language like the system is actually murdering Black women at three times the rate,” Sutton-El said.

The survey was included as part of a study from Virginia’s Department of Medical Assistance Services, the agency which manages low income, Medicaid recipients, including for people who gain access to coverage during their pregnancy. It shows responses from medical providers and the companies that facilitate coverage are not delivering as promised.

So-called “secret shoppers” tried to access care but less than two-thirds of calls were answered and less than one-third accepted Virginia Medicaid.

These renewed concerns about the survey and Virginia’s maternal health system were presented by members of the PUSH Maternal Health Coalition. Nichole Wardlaw is a midwife with the American College of Nurse-Midwives who said implicit bias remains an issue.

“A white family comes in, they have eight kids, oh that’s a nice family," Wardlaw said. "A Black family comes in, they have eight kids, ‘why do they have so many children?’”

In a written statement sent after Tuesday's press conference, the Virginia Association of Health Plans (VAHP) which represents the intermediary plan managers said the survey has "significant limitations that make it difficult to draw systemic conclusions about access to care."

And there may be some good news; as state Medicaid plans go to renew their contracts which gives them access to hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars, they’re facing new requirements for implicit bias training and more reporting on how their patients and providers interact.

Still, PUSH is asking for those requirements to be reinforced via legislation slated for the 2025 session.

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