March Policy Roundup

1. HealthyWomen recognizes Obesity Care Week

During the first week of March, known as Obesity Care Week, HealthyWomen senior policy advisor Martha Nolan wrote an Op-Ed that was published in The Hill. In the piece, Nolan argued that the way obesity care is currently provided is broken, steeped in stigma and misconceptions that obesity is simply a function of diet and exercise choices. In fact, she wrote, obesity is the result of complex factors that cause disease and are often out of an individual’s control. Nolan advocated for the passage of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, which would help improve access to and affordability of treatments for obesity.

2. Sex Matters! A HealthyWomen advisor addresses women’s health innovations and sex differences in health

Monica Mallampalli, Ph.D., HealthyWomen senior scientific advisor, was interviewed this month by the Migraine World Summit about the barriers women face when seeking healthcare and how women with migraine disease can address the barriers they face in accessing care. The discussion also covered the state of migraine research and what patients can do to support and further such research. Mallampalli also spoke to the Vestibular Disorders Association via Facebook Live and the Migraine Science Collaborative via LinkedIn Live about her paper on care gaps in vestibular migraine published earlier this year in Frontiers in Neurology.

Mallampalli also recently moderated a forum on innovations in women’s health called “CEOs Discuss Innovations in Women’s Health That Address Major Unmet Needs,” hosted by the Medical Device Group Boston. On March 29, Mallampalli also presented at the Society for Toxicology meeting. Her talk, “Sex Matters! History, Policy and Toxicological Implications of Sex Differences in Disease Outcomes,” focused on the significance of sex and gender differences in health and research and on how toxicologists can advance research by taking sex into account in designing their studies.

3. Congress approves the 2022 budget with increased funding for maternal mental health programs

This month, Congress passed the fiscal year 2022 federal budget. The new budget includes $2.5 million additional funds for maternal mental health programs, bringing the total to $10.5 million. These funds will support a dedicated maternal mental health hotline to operate 24/7 and will fund grants to states for their local programs. The federal budget also includes other funding to improve maternal health outcomes and to reduce disparities in maternal health among underserved communities, such as in rural communities.

4. President Biden proposes maternal health investments in his 2023 budget request

In late March, President Biden released his budget request for fiscal year 2023. This proposed budget, which Congress still has to approve, is essentially the White House’s wish list for the coming year’s spending priorities. Included in the administration proposal is a nearly 27% increase in funds for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Specifically, the proposal includes $470 million to improve maternal health and reduce maternal deaths and $400 million to fund the Title X Family Planning program, which provides funding for reproductive care for low-income people. Other budget priorities for the Biden administration include increased funding for public health infrastructure, free vaccines for uninsured people, telehealth, mental health care, cancer research, and HIV treatment and prevention.

5. President Biden signed a bipartisan law reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act

This month, President Joe Biden signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization Act of 2022 to prevent and address gender-based violence, improve access to care for survivors of sexual violence, and improve protections for Native American women. The reauthorization extends VAWA grant programs until 2027, increases services for survivors from marginalized communities, improves prevention and response to sexual violence, and strengthens the healthcare system’s response to domestic violence and sexual assault, among other important provisions. The original Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994 and updated in 2000, 2005 and 2013.

This new law takes effect against a backdrop of increased partner violence in the United States. According to a new study, referrals for consultations for emotional abuse and other forms of intimate partner violence increased substantially during the pandemic.

6. States are making it easier to get birth control from pharmacists

Earlier this month, the Rhode Island House of Representatives approved a bill allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control without authorization or a prescription from a medical professional. The bill is under consideration in the state Senate. Similar measures have passed in about a dozen states, most recently in North Carolina.

7. A study sheds light on the relationship between obesity, infertility and birth outcomes

Women living with obesity who struggle with infertility are often advised to lose weight in order to improve their chances of getting pregnant. But a new study published this month showed that women who dieted intensely and increased their physical activity levels were no more likely to get pregnant or have healthy births than women who increased their physical activity but who did not diet and lose weight. The women who lost weight experienced other health benefits — such as decreases in metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of symptoms that increase risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease — but losing weight did not increase fertility.

Another study published this month showed that women living with obesity prior to pregnancy were 55% more likely to deliver a stillborn baby or have a newborn death. Even women who were moderately overweight before pregnancy had 22% higher odds of one of these negative outcomes.

8. More evidence emerges that Covid-19 is dangerous for pregnant women

More evidence of the dangers Covid-19 pose to pregnant women was published this month. The new study found that Covid-19 infection during pregnancy doubles the risk of negative consequences, compared to pregnant people without Covid-19. Bad outcomes associated with the virus included preterm birth and maternal hospitalization. Pregnant people with diabetes and Asian or Pacific Islander and Black pregnant people were more likely than others to be hospitalized with Covid-19.

9. Mississippi lawmakers are trying to revive efforts to expand Medicaid coverage for postpartum women

State Senators in Mississippi recently approved a bill that would extend Medicaid coverage for postpartum women, from the current two months to one year. The bill died in the Mississippi House of Representatives this month when it failed to make it out of the House Medicaid Committee for a full vote. The objection from the Committee chairman was reportedly concern for creating any appearance of Medicaid expansion in Mississippi, one of 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. But now, the Republican-led State Senate is seeking to revive its proposal as a way of improving Mississippi’s high maternal mortality rate. An estimated 225,000 residents of Mississippi could gain health insurance coverage if the state opted to expand Medicaid.

1. HealthyWomen recognizes Obesity Care Week

During the first week of March, known as Obesity Care Week, HealthyWomen senior policy advisor Martha Nolan wrote an Op-Ed that was published in The Hill. In the piece, Nolan argued that the way obesity care is currently provided is broken, steeped in stigma and misconceptions that obesity is simply a function of diet and exercise choices. In fact, she wrote, obesity is the result of complex factors that cause disease and are often out of an individual’s control. Nolan advocated for the passage of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, which would help improve access to and affordability of treatments for obesity.

2. Sex Matters! A HealthyWomen advisor addresses women’s health innovations and sex differences in health

Monica Mallampalli, Ph.D., HealthyWomen senior scientific advisor, was interviewed this month by the Migraine World Summit about the barriers women face when seeking healthcare and how women with migraine disease can address the barriers they face in accessing care. The discussion also covered the state of migraine research and what patients can do to support and further such research. Mallampalli also spoke to the Vestibular Disorders Association via Facebook Live and the Migraine Science Collaborative via LinkedIn Live about her paper on care gaps in vestibular migraine published earlier this year in Frontiers in Neurology.

Mallampalli also recently moderated a forum on innovations in women’s health called “CEOs Discuss Innovations in Women’s Health That Address Major Unmet Needs,” hosted by the Medical Device Group Boston. On March 29, Mallampalli also presented at the Society for Toxicology meeting. Her talk, “Sex Matters! History, Policy and Toxicological Implications of Sex Differences in Disease Outcomes,” focused on the significance of sex and gender differences in health and research and on how toxicologists can advance research by taking sex into account in designing their studies.

3. Congress approves the 2022 budget with increased funding for maternal mental health programs

This month, Congress passed the fiscal year 2022 federal budget. The new budget includes $2.5 million additional funds for maternal mental health programs, bringing the total to $10.5 million. These funds will support a dedicated maternal mental health hotline to operate 24/7 and will fund grants to states for their local programs. The federal budget also includes other funding to improve maternal health outcomes and to reduce disparities in maternal health among underserved communities, such as in rural communities.

4. President Biden proposes maternal health investments in his 2023 budget request

In late March, President Biden released his budget request for fiscal year 2023. This proposed budget, which Congress still has to approve, is essentially the White House’s wish list for the coming year’s spending priorities. Included in the administration proposal is a nearly 27% increase in funds for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Specifically, the proposal includes $470 million to improve maternal health and reduce maternal deaths and $400 million to fund the Title X Family Planning program, which provides funding for reproductive care for low-income people. Other budget priorities for the Biden administration include increased funding for public health infrastructure, free vaccines for uninsured people, telehealth, mental health care, cancer research, and HIV treatment and prevention.

5. President Biden signed a bipartisan law reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act

This month, President Joe Biden signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization Act of 2022 to prevent and address gender-based violence, improve access to care for survivors of sexual violence, and improve protections for Native American women. The reauthorization extends VAWA grant programs until 2027, increases services for survivors from marginalized communities, improves prevention and response to sexual violence, and strengthens the healthcare system’s response to domestic violence and sexual assault, among other important provisions. The original Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994 and updated in 2000, 2005 and 2013.

This new law takes effect against a backdrop of increased partner violence in the United States. According to a new study, referrals for consultations for emotional abuse and other forms of intimate partner violence increased substantially during the pandemic.

6. States are making it easier to get birth control from pharmacists

Earlier this month, the Rhode Island House of Representatives approved a bill allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control without authorization or a prescription from a medical professional. The bill is under consideration in the state Senate. Similar measures have passed in about a dozen states, most recently in North Carolina.

7. A study sheds light on the relationship between obesity, infertility and birth outcomes

Women living with obesity who struggle with infertility are often advised to lose weight in order to improve their chances of getting pregnant. But a new study published this month showed that women who dieted intensely and increased their physical activity levels were no more likely to get pregnant or have healthy births than women who increased their physical activity but who did not diet and lose weight. The women who lost weight experienced other health benefits — such as decreases in metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of symptoms that increase risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease — but losing weight did not increase fertility.

Another study published this month showed that women living with obesity prior to pregnancy were 55% more likely to deliver a stillborn baby or have a newborn death. Even women who were moderately overweight before pregnancy had 22% higher odds of one of these negative outcomes.

8. More evidence emerges that Covid-19 is dangerous for pregnant women

More evidence of the dangers Covid-19 pose to pregnant women was published this month. The new study found that Covid-19 infection during pregnancy doubles the risk of negative consequences, compared to pregnant people without Covid-19. Bad outcomes associated with the virus included preterm birth and maternal hospitalization. Pregnant people with diabetes and Asian or Pacific Islander and Black pregnant people were more likely than others to be hospitalized with Covid-19.

9. Mississippi lawmakers are trying to revive efforts to expand Medicaid coverage for postpartum women

State Senators in Mississippi recently approved a bill that would extend Medicaid coverage for postpartum women, from the current two months to one year. The bill died in the Mississippi House of Representatives this month when it failed to make it out of the House Medicaid Committee for a full vote. The objection from the Committee chairman was reportedly concern for creating any appearance of Medicaid expansion in Mississippi, one of 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. But now, the Republican-led State Senate is seeking to revive its proposal as a way of improving Mississippi’s high maternal mortality rate. An estimated 225,000 residents of Mississippi could gain health insurance coverage if the state opted to expand Medicaid.