JB-LF Research Initiative

A continuation of our series highlighting the issues affecting the low-income moms gaining access to quality health care.

Arlington County has a wealth of resources, but data shows the percentage of women in the county who start receiving prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy has consistently fallen below the state average. In the county, only around 61% of women initiated prenatal care during the first trimester in 2018, whereas Virginia’s state average was around 78-79%. Many moms can’t access the kind of care they want – and deserve – for themselves and their babies. Through conducting research and funding innovative programs that increase access to care, the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation aims to change Arlington County’s statistics.

The low-income women the foundation serves most often experience obstacles to care, including being underinsured, transportation issues, lack of willing healthcare providers, language barriers, childcare needs, and the consequences of missed work. These factors and more have led mothers to seek care outside of the county or start care well into their second trimester. Organized research can help us learn about our community, and to learn about the journeys many mothers embark on when preparing to have a baby. Conducting research can also inform long-term change, where we can care for prenatal and postnatal patients at a higher capacity to support overall health, while reducing the risk of complications that affect both mother and baby.

In 2022, the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation began a multi-phase project that fully reviews the state of maternal health for low-income women in Arlington to help give insight into where additional needs exist throughout the county. This first phase includes a survey of this community to inform next steps and recommendation development. The challenge is uncovering why low-income, uninsured women in the county aren’t being served early in pregnancy, and what is keeping these women from initiating care in the first trimester.

There is an opportunity here: to better serve our low-income moms and increase access to health care. These goals can become a reality through our innovative programs and detailed research. JB-LF has successfully and consistently troubleshooted gaps in women’s health care in the Arlington County hospitals and clinics, as well as raised funds to introduce solution-based programs. In wanting to see better statistics for Arlington women initiating first trimester care, JB-LF is giving low-income pregnant women renewed hope by increasing access to much needed health care support. Our 2022 research has goals of sparking systemic change, and through the collection of feedback and data, we hope to accomplish just that.

Expanding Access to Care

November 2021

A continuation of our series highlighting the issues affecting the low-income moms gaining access to quality health care.

By Lindsey Hill, Intern

Medicaid provides health coverage to 1 in 5 Americans, with many low-income pregnant women relying on the program to aid with delivery expenses. Expectant mothers can qualify for coverage in a couple ways – as a previous recipient of Medicaid services, meeting qualifications at the beginning of pregnancy, or through emergency coverage from delivery up to eight weeks postpartum. Due to life circumstances, many of the women we serve don’t qualify until emergency coverage sets in at delivery.  

For all moms using Medicaid, the ability to access postpartum care used to last for only 60 days postpartum – far to short to benefit the health of mom and baby. However, progress is being made. In 2020, the United States House of Representatives passed legislation allowing states to extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days up to a full year postpartum. Why is this extension of Medicaid coverage for new mothers so important?

Extending Medicaid coverage will provide insurance for women at a medically vulnerable time in their lives while they are pregnant and after giving birth. Low-income women are disproportionately likely to face life-threatening conditions between 8 weeks and 1 year following their deliveries. This postpartum year is critical for women and extending Medicaid coverage could mean the difference between life and death for many new mothers.

This expansion is significant for low-income women by increasing their access to pre- and post- partum care. Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam, has expanded the Commonwealth’s Medicaid program, giving hundreds of thousands of Virginians access to medical care and the opportunity to lead healthier lives. Extending coverage for low-income pregnant women and new mothers will ensure continuous health coverage during some of the most important times of their lives. The previous coverage of 60-days postpartum was simply not enough because continuous health coverage is crucial for keeping women healthy during and after pregnancy. With these new opportunities for expectant and new mothers, we should hope to see an increase in access to quality maternal health care coverage. 

Medicaid for Low-Income Moms

September 2021

A continuation of our series highlighting the issues affecting the low-income moms gaining access to quality health care.

By Lindsey Hill, Intern

Access to affordable health care is a basic human need yet in the United States, the future of a vital safety net remains uncertain. A report from 2018 revealed that 1 in 10 Arlington adults are living without health insurance. Given how affluent the Arlington community is, it’s a concerning statistic that 11% of Arlington residents do not have insurance. Thankfully there is a safety net for the uninsured – Medicaid. Medicaid covers essential health benefits, including pregnancy, maternity, pediatric care, chronic disease management, breastfeeding support, contraception, mental health and other behavioral health services.

Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that currently provides health coverage to 1 in 5 Americans, including children, pregnant women, parents, seniors, and individuals with disabilities. Medicaid is the single largest source of health coverage in the United States, with Virginia Medicaid offering low-cost and no-cost health coverage programs for citizens and legal immigrants based on financial status. 

Close to 50% of all U.S. births are covered by Medicaid, along with a large number of maternal, infant, and child health visits. Serving millions of U.S. pregnant women living in poverty, Medicaid expansion has increased access to coverage and services associated with improving the lives of mothers and infants. 

While there are multiple coverage options in the state of Virginia for children and pregnant women, more can be done for these frequent users of needed medical services. Medicaid expansion can and will continue to help low-income populations, specifically helping mothers in need to ensure healthy pregnancies and births. The Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, has prioritized Medicaid expansion and in our next Medicaid blog, we will detail how this expansion can have a positive impact for the moms and babies we serve.

First trimester care: A problematic start to pregnancy

1 in 3 babies in Arlington does not get seen by a healthcare provider during the first trimester of pregnancy.
By Lindsey Hill, Intern

This earliest phase of pregnancy contains the highest number of essential developmental milestones for both mother and baby. During this period, the baby’s organ systems and body structure develop, even tiny miracles as small as fingernail growth occur. As you can imagine, prenatal care, especially in the first trimester, is vital to both the pregnant mother and the development of a healthy baby.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, the percentage of women in Arlington seeking a healthcare professional in their first trimester remains relatively low. In 2018, only around 60% of expectant mothers in Arlington sought care in this critical period. While low-income pregnant women face the difficulties of being underinsured and finding or qualifying for healthcare programs, they also experience obstacles to care including transportation issues, lack of providers, language barriers, childcare needs, and the consequences of missed work. As much as these moms want to get the best possible care for their babies, countless roadblocks often stand in their way.

Why is needing care in the first trimester of pregnancy so important? Healthcare appointments in the earliest stage of pregnancy include physical exams and prenatal tests for mom and screenings to assess the health of the baby. These appointments help determine, find, and if necessary, prevent any foreseen problems or complications with the pregnancy. Expectant mothers also learn crucial information about their pregnancy as well as have the opportunity to ask their provider any questions they may have. Increasing the number of women who receive these early stages of care can reduce the likelihood of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, but the longer this care is prolonged, the more health risks the mother and unborn baby face.

The Jennifer Bush-Lawson foundation strives to serve the economically vulnerable mothers and infants of Arlington by giving them a fair start at life through access to quality pre and postnatal healthcare and support. We envision a community where every mother and newborn child receives the support they need to thrive– regardless of race, color, creed, or economic status. This is accomplished through innovative programs such as the tele-health project that increased monitoring access for pregnant women who do not have the option to take time off work or travel for frequent medical appointments. 

Care in the first trimester is critical for expectant mothers. The Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation is driven to provide women with more access to first trimester care as well as education about their pregnancies. Affordable healthcare is not always easily accessible, but coming to better understand the various barriers mothers face, we hope to better serve the community.