(TRENTON) – A doula is a non-medical person who assists a woman before, during, or after childbirth, to provide emotional support and physical help if needed. They are also called birth companions, a birth coach or post-birth supporter. More families today are seeking the help of doulas to guide them through pregnancy and the birthing process.
Acknowledging the invaluable service doulas provide for New Jersey families, Assemblywomen Eliana Pintor Marin, Angelica Jimenez and Shavonda Sumter have sponsored legislation that would expand Medicaid coverage for doula care. The measure cleared the Legislature on Monday with final approval by the Assembly, 69-6-4. It now awaits further consideration by the Governor.
“Many women are finding comfort in the support of a doula during their pregnancies,” said Pintor Marin (D-Essex). “A doula provides emotional, physical, and educational support to a mother who is expecting, is experiencing labor, or has recently given birth. Their care has often been said to help reduce pregnancy complications. It is critically important for doula care, which has increasingly grown in popularity for pregnant women, to be covered under Medicaid.”
Research shows that support from a doula is associated with lower caesarian section rates, fewer obstetric interventions, fewer complications, decreased use of pain medication, shorter labor hours, and higher scores on the Apgar test, which is an assessment given to newborns soon after birth.
The bill (A-1662) would provide for the expansion of the State Medicaid program to include coverage for doula care.
“With the maternal and child death rate at an all-time high in the state and nation, we must do everything we can for the women of New Jersey to ensure that their prenatal period, before and after, are as healthy and seamless as possible,” said Jimenez (D-Bergen, Hudson). “Moms now rely on the birthing assistance provided through doula services. It has proven to be immensely successful and should, without question, be included in Medicaid coverage.”
The bill would allow the Commissioner of Human Services to establish regulations to implement the bill, including eligibility rules and coverage limitations. The Commissioner may take such anticipatory administrative action in advance including, but not limited to, the submission of a state plan amendment to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, as may be necessary for the implementation of this act.
“Doulas have become an integral part in the fight to reduce the black mother and infant mortality rates. Just recently, the New Jersey Department of Health deployed 40 doula outreach workers as part of the ‘Healthy Women, Healthy Families Program,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Providing the option of doula services will meet the crucial need for increased birthing support of underserved women throughout New Jersey. This type of support should not be available to the privileged few who can pay for the extra help. We can save more families by expanding access to doula services.”
To obtain federal approval, the Commissioner of Human Services will have to apply for such State plan amendments or waivers as may be necessary to implement the provisions of the bill and to secure federal financial participation for State Medicaid expenditures under the federal Medicaid program.
The full Assembly also passed resolution AJR-184 76-0-0, sponsored by Assemblywomen Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Shanique Speight and Angela McKnight, which designates March 22 to March 28 of each year as “Doula Appreciation Week” in New Jersey.
Both measures now head to the Governor for further consideration.