(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — Members of the Wolf Administration gathered with other stakeholders on May 25 to highlight an extension in benefits for new mothers.

“Maternal mortality rates in this country and Pennsylvania have continued to rise year over year with black women and people of color bearing a tragically higher burden of pregnancy-related complications and deaths. We have a responsibility and obligation to do more to reverse this tragic and preventable loss of life,” said Department of Human Service Acting Secretary Meg Snead in a joint news release from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Service and the Department of Health. “If we espouse the value of human life, then we need to do everything we can to value and take care of moms, babies and parents, no matter their race, ethnicity, income, gender identity, sexual orientation or ZIP code. Access to high-quality, essential health care is the bare minimum that we should be offering to our fellow Pennsylvanians. Opting into the postpartum Medicaid extension is an important step, and we must continue to invest in health programs that can improve care and save lives.”

Effective April 1, under the American Rescue Plan Act, the Medicaid postpartum coverage period was extended for mothers who are eligible for the program for up to a year following the end of a pregnancy (previously, the coverage was only available for 60 days after a pregnancy).

“As an OB/GYN physician, maternal health is very close to my heart,” said Department of Health Acting Secretary and Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson. “Pennsylvania, like the rest of the country, can do a better job protecting and improving the health of mothers, and thus their families and their whole communities. By extending Medicaid coverage, we are eliminating a barrier for those accessing care.”

Extending Medicaid postpartum coverage will help new parents maintain relationships with and access to care providers during a critical period.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), maternal mortality rates rose between 2019 and 2020, and black women are nearly three times as likely as white women to die after giving birth. The commonwealth mirrors that national trend, according the news release.

Other groups during the Harrisburg press event were the Women’s Health Caucus, Maternity Care Coalition CEO Marianne Fray, and Genesis Birth Services owner Gerria Coffee.