Pennsylvania Receives Grant Funding to Promote Racial Equity in Pregnancy and Child Health

The Department of Human Services announced that, in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh, the Commonwealth was awarded more than $249 thousand in funding over two years from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to better study the effects of work promoting racial equity in pregnancy and child health care.

“We know that our nation needs to work to reverse distressing trends in maternal mortality, and we need to improve outcomes for people of color relative to white populations,” said Acting DHS Secretary Meg Snead. “With this grant funding, we will be able to directly see the effects our policies are having on maternal and infant health equity. DHS has the ability to review and assess our Medical Assistance policies, so it is incumbent upon us to promote racial equity in pregnancy and child health.”

State Medical Assistance programs are the largest single payer for pregnancy and birth in the US, covering 65 percent of births to Black people. In Pennsylvania, a large disparity exists between white and African American women for maternal mortality.

DHS and the University of Pittsburgh will work with Healthy Start, Medical Assistance Managed Care Organizations, and other community partnerships to conduct interviews with Medical Assistance recipients. The interviews will attempt to learn about participants’ experiences with Medical Assistance, find desired policy changes in Medical Assistance – especially those that would be useful to promote equity in healthcare – and gain perspectives about the new Medicaid policies.

DHS hopes that with this research, it can determine how equity-focused maternity care affects racial equity in health outcomes and can identify next steps and community partners to implement other policies. Full results of the research will be available at the end of the two-year grant period.

Pennsylvania is currently implementing several changes to its Medical Assistance policies that will advance racial equity in pregnancy and child health. Through a new equity incentive program for Physical Health Managed Care Organizations, the Department aims to improve access to timely prenatal and maternity care and well-child visits among Black families. As part of the Governor’s Whole Person Health Reform Initiative, the Department created Regional Accountable Health Councils, which are working to identify areas with health inequities and designing equity-focused community interventions.

The department is also rolling out a new maternity care bundled payment, which creates specific incentives to promote racial equity in care. The RWJF funding will help DHS and the University of Pittsburgh research the early effects of these policy changes on maternal and infant health equity, and are part of DHS’ larger mission to promote racial equity in its programs and activities outlined in its Racial Equity Report and the Roadmap to Whole Person Health.