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Catering to Womens' Needs: The Fruits of ACA Regulations

JoAnne Fischer has the best interest of women and families at heart -- especially in light of health care reform brought about by the Affordable Care Act -- as she continues to advocate for maternal and child health needs, locally and nationally.

Birthing is a powerful experience whether it results in a baby or an organization. As Executive Director for the past 23 years, I am grateful to have been a midwife to Maternity Care Coalition (MCC) and to work with passionate and talented people and to advocate for women and children every day. I have always felt that childbirth is one of the most memorable and cul­turally significant times in a person’s life. Unfor­tunately, we as a culture have not adequately supported women during this period. MCC plays a vital role in the community, connecting women to the services and programs they need for a healthy start to their babies’ lives.

When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010, we knew that MCC needed to play a key role in explaining it to our community. Since then we have provided leadership at the local and state level by educating the public and stakeholders about the provisions of the legislation that impact mothers and babies. These provisions include workplace protections for breastfeeding, home visiting programs for families, perinatal depression research, pregnancy assistance funds, insurance coverage for maternity care, and equitable Medical Assistance reimbursements for Certified Nurse Midwives and Birth Centers. We have also developed a strategic advocacy agenda with our coalition partners—Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need and the Pennsylvania Health Access Network—that is inclusive of women’s specific health needs.

MCC’s ability to provide public education and outreach on the ACA has been illustrated time and time again. One of our early successes was our work with employers to promote the ACA break time provision for breastfeeding mothers. In 2010, MCC held a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Award event with over 200 guests, businesses, and key partners in attendance, including Director of the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor, Sara Manzano-Diaz, and City of Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Donald Schwarz. As an extension of this event, we successfully facilitated the transition to a “breastfeeding friendly workplace” for 11 employers in Philadelphia, and that number continues to grow every day.

In 2011, MCC successfully advocated for the inclusion of women in Pennsylvania’s high risk pools that were established by the ACA for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Believe it or not, pregnancy is still considered a pre-existing condition in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. During that same year, MCC’s policy department helped introduce the Insuring Motherhood Bill (SB 1063), which would ensure all health benefits cover maternity in Pennsylvania until the ACA takes effect in 2014.

The significant changes presented by the ACA continuously present new opportunities for advocacy and education on maternal and child health needs, both locally and nationally. MCC has seized this opportunity, serving as a conduit between women’s groups and health reform advocates to ensure that both agendas support each other to achieve comprehensive health reform that includes the needs of childbearing women and young families.

JoAnne Fischer is a community activist and nationally recognized leader advocating for women, children and families. She is the Executive Director of the Maternity Care Coalition (MCC), a statewide maternal and child health organization providing outreach and family support services to over 80,000 pregnant women and parents of infants in Southeastern Pennsylvania.