MILWAUKEE — State legislators are introducing a new set of bills, aiming to bring equity to birth outcomes in Wisconsin.
This comes as federal health data shows African Americans experience 2.3 times the infant mortality that white families do, and that data is increasingly stark when you zoom in on the Milwaukee area.
The lawmakers introducing this package of six new bills, titled the Wisconsin Birth Equity Act, say the goal is to disrupt bias in the care cycle. Representative Sheila Stubbs (D) of Madison was joined by Senator LaTonya Johnson (D) of Milwaukee who called her connection to the legislation personal.
"I ended up giving birth to my daughter three days shy of 32 weeks. She was three pounds 15 ounces and had to be in the neonatal ward," shared Sen. Johnson. "I know what it's like to go home without your baby, to worry about your child and to pray as hard as you possibly can just for your baby to to be able to make it."
Black babies in Milwaukee are three times more likely to die before their first birthday, when compared to white babies. It's stunning data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and it's remained largely unchanged for decades.
Mothers of color do not escape the harsh reality of inequity. According to the CDC, out of every 100,000 births, 42.4 black mothers will die. When it comes to white women that number drops sharply — to 13.
"Wisconsin is ranked one of the worst states in our nation for maternal health outcomes and the worst for racial disparities and infant mortality. Wisconsin is the worst place to raise a black family," asserted Rep. Sheila Stubbs as the new legislation was unveiled.
Lawmakers behind the new proposals, and those who work in the childbirth arena, say access to quality and equitable maternity care is critical to meaningful change.
Raven Wilson is a Milwaukee area doula who believes helping people understand how doulas improve the health of mothers and babies, and providing them access, is key.
"Black women or women of color their voices are not heard," said Wilson. "When they go to doctor appointments, it's kind of dismissed. So the same symptoms and pain that a white woman would endure, the black women is seen as if that's not really happening."
One role a doula can play, is acting as an advocate for the mother and baby to help prevent any complications.
Both Rep. Stubbs and Sen. Johnson call this bill package a significant step toward knocking down health barriers for mothers and babies of color in Wisconsin.
The lawmakers say the six bills will:
- Provide an at-home wellness visit, upon request, within the first seven days of delivery
- Mandate insurance coverage of maternal mental health risk screenings
- Repeal Wisconsin’s Medicaid birth cost recovery law
- Establish pregnancy as a qualifying event for employer-sponsored health plans
- Remove the sales tax on breastfeeding equipment and supplies
- Expand access to dental care for pregnant BadgerCare recipients
The lead sponsors have set up a website where you can find more information about the proposals. Visit wibirthequity.org.