Doula Services Improve Maternal and Child Health Outcomes

Medicaid Programs Increasingly Reimbursing for Doula Services

Doulas are professionals who provides physical, emotional, and informational support to a woman throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. Doula’s act as a facilitator between the laboring women and her physician by ensuring that mom and dad get the information they need in a way that they understand so they can make informed decisions. 

Evidence suggests that support from doulas is linked to lower c-section rates and fewer complications. Medicaid finances more than half of all births each year in 25 states, indicating that Medicaid reimbursement policy can be a particularly effective lever to improve maternal health outcomes. Two states have enacted legislation to provide reimbursement for care by doulas as a way to improve maternal health outcomes and address existing maternal mortality disparities.

Currently, Minnesota and Oregon take advantage of the fact that doulas can reduce healthcare costs while improving outcomes in their state Medicaid programs. In the 2018 budget, Minnesota increased the reimbursement rates for doulas.  The new law also requires Oregon’s coordinated care organizations (which deliver Medicaid services) to provide information about how to access doula services online and through any printed explanations of benefits. The law tasked Oregon Medicaid with facilitating direct payments to doulas, which was addressed through rulemaking.  

New Jersey recently enacted legislation to improve maternal health among disproportionately affected groups of women by permitting the state to seek a state plan amendment or waiver that establishes Medicaid reimbursement for doula services. The legislation follows a recently piloted state doula program aimed at reducing health disparities in communities with high infant mortality rates.

Indiana also enacted legislation ensuring that pregnancy services covered by Medicaid also include reimbursement for doulas. The law incorporates doula services into the state’s obstetrician navigator program through the department of health, as well as the family and social services administration, allowing Medicaid reimbursement for services provided by doulas. Like in New Jersey, this legislation allows the state to apply for a state plan amendment or waiver necessary to implement doula reimbursement in Medicaid.

There's growing momentum to conduct comprehensive reviews of maternal mortality data, which could help better understand the underlying causes of health disparities. Using a health equity lens to develop policy and design clinical interventions could also prove valuable by ensuring that services are culturally competent, affordable, and accessible by populations who need them most. 

Twenty-nine states (including Arizona) have committees that review maternal deaths and make public policy recommendations.  Arizona took a big step forward this last legislative session with the passage of SB 1040 Maternal Mortality Report which establishes a Maternal Fatalities and Morbidity Advisory Committee to explore public health policy interventions to improve maternal outcomes.

Perhaps the Advisory Committee, which meets on Friday August 30 from 9:30am to 12:30 pm at the Arizona State Laboratory, will explore the role that Doulas can play in improving birth outcomes and make some evidence based recommendations to better use their services in Arizona's care network (our Board President Mary Ellen Cunningham will be representing AzPHA on the committee).