Advocacy: Lamaze International Leaders on Capitol Hill

By John Richardson, Director, Government Relations, Lamaze International

I am proud of being both a member of Lamaze International and a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator for many reasons.  Today's post by John Richardson, Lamaze International's Director of Government Relations is just one reason why I am happy to pay my membership dues and be a part of the Lamaze organization.  Lamaze is actively working in both the private sector and with public/governmental leaders to help every family to have access to the resources to have a safe and healthy birth.  Today on the blog, we share about how our Board of Directors met with Congressmen and Congresswomen to share the importance of an evidence based childbirth education class being available to all families.  My certifying organization works hard for me and the families I teach every day.  - Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

Lamaze BoD on Capitol Hill, 2015

Lamaze BoD on Capitol Hill, 2015

Advocacy is a foundational element of the Lamaze International mission to advance safe and healthy pregnancy, birth and early parenting through evidence-based education and advocacy. Assisting women and their families to make informed decisions for childbearing and acting as an advocate to promote, support, and protect safe and healthy birth are two core competencies of a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator.

Advocacy comes in many different forms. The new Lamaze Strategic Framework specifically calls for taking advocacy efforts to the next level, focusing on government and legislative advocacy -- leveraging strategic partnerships to advocate for perinatal/childbirth education coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and partnering with insurance companies, including the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), to become part of the “bundled care” system. (Bundled care payment programs refer to the concept of grouping together the multiple services associated with a certain health “episode” versus the current fee for service system where each service associated with a condition is charged separately, and is one of the ACA’s many attempts to incentivize health care providers to be more cost efficient.)

BoD President Robin Elise Weiss and BOD Christine Morton

BoD President Robin Elise Weiss and BOD Christine Morton

Over the years, Lamaze has been involved in a variety of coalition and advocacy efforts related to improving access to high-quality maternity care that includes evidence based childbirth education by qualified educators and the promotion of breastfeeding within the health care industry. These efforts will continue with Lamaze taking its message directly to Capitol Hill to have a stronger voice with federal policymakers on behalf of the organization, its members, and the women and families that Lamaze serves. We want to let Congress know that Lamaze International provides gold standard childbirth education which can play an important role in promoting healthier outcomes for mother and baby and reducing healthcare costs and burdens on the healthcare system.

What does advocacy look like?

Advocacy campaigns at the federal level in the United States are typically a set of actions targeted to create support for a specific policy or proposal. The goals of an advocacy campaign may include drafting and passing a new law, drafting and passing amendments to existing laws, commenting on regulation, or influencing public perception and awareness of a particular issue.

Why is advocacy important for Lamaze?

Board member Alice Turner

Board member Alice Turner

The delivery of health care is one of the most regulated industries in the United States. State and federal regulations often define whether services are covered by insurance, which practitioners are allowed to deliver services, the manner in which services are delivered, and how much individual practitioners and health care organizations are reimbursed. Naturally, there are a lot of people and organizations invested in steering and influencing these policies. There are literally thousands of issues and groups vying for policymakers’ attention. For Lamaze, it is critical to engage directly in advocacy activities so that policymakers become aware of the issues that are important to our organization and make them priorities.

There have been several recent successful advocacy initiatives to improve care for pregnant and postpartum women. For example, Lamaze has worked in collaboration with other organizations and lawmakers to improve breastfeeding services under the Affordable Care Act. As a result, there are several benefits now available to women who receive coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplaces (exchanges) and private non-grandfathered plans. Benefits such as lactation support and counseling by trained professionals are now covered without co-pay or co-insurance. Breast pumps are also covered at no charge and most employers must provide access to clean and private locations to pump for women who are hourly employees.

These victories are impressive and it is important to note that they did not occur in a vacuum. Advocates flooded the halls of Congress for years to ensure that policymakers appreciated the importance of breastfeeding. A key component of the success of these advocacy efforts was that they were based on research, focused on higher quality health outcomes, and provided fiscal benefits to the health care system and the federal government.

The Lamaze Board of Directors' “Hill Day”

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Bearing all this in mind and in conjunction with their in-person meeting in Washington, DC, members of the Lamaze Board of Directors took to Capitol Hill on March 19, 2015 to meet with their Representatives and Senators about the excellent childbirth education that Lamaze provides and its potential to reduce costs and improve outcomes. The members of the Board met with a total of 23 Congressional offices, the majority of whom sit on committees with jurisdiction over health policy.

Our advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill centered on the following core messages:

  1. Promoting greater utilization of evidence-based childbirth education is a critical element in closing quality outcomes gaps and reducing unnecessary costs. In the face of high rates of cesarean sections, early inductions, and maternal/infant mortality, there is an increasing imperative for women to be informed and in charge of their maternity care to improve birth outcomes.

Maternal or neonatal hospital stays make up the greatest proportion of hospitalizations among infants, younger adults and patients covered by private insurance and Medicaid, which is why improvements in care are a major opportunity to reduce overall healthcare spending. Increasing quality outcomes by reducing the rates of unnecessary interventions, such as early induction of labor and cesarean section, are critical to reduce healthcare spending, particularly with Medicaid.

  1. The ACA has provided an opportunity for millions of uninsured Americans to access health care coverage through the creation of the exchanges. For those that do not enroll in a plan during the “open” enrollment period, there are qualifying “life events” that trigger special enrollment periods. One of those life events is when a woman gives birth. After the birth, the mother can sign herself and her infant up for coverage.

Lamaze believes, along with many others, that pregnancy, rather than birth, should be the life event that triggers the special enrollment period. Recently, 37 Senators and 55 Representatives sent a letter to U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell  requesting this change. It appears Secretary Burwell can make this change administratively, as it does not require an act of Congress. Lamaze will join a chorus of other organizations that are making this request directly to the Secretary. Lamaze will also emphasize the importance of ensuring that ACA and state Medicaid plans include childbirth education as a covered service under maternity care benefits.

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Hill Day meetings

While meeting and communicating with legislators and staff on Capitol Hill may seem intimidating, it is actually very easy. Legislators are elected (and re-elected) by their constituents (you) so they have an obligation to listen to their constituents (you). That is a very important dynamic to remember. They are naturally inclined to help address the issues raised by their constituents.

However, advocates should always be well-prepared, a task that proved to be almost second nature for the Lamaze Board members as they met with Congressional offices. As experts in the field and natural educators, Lamaze leadership did a fantastic job representing the views of childbirth educators and establishing a rapport with the officials and staffers they met – the most important accomplishment of any first meeting on Capitol Hill.

Check out all the pictures of our Board of Directors on the "Hill" last month here.

Getting Involved

If you want to get involved and contact or meet with Congressional offices in your state, the most important action is to convey who you are, what you do, how you do it, and why it is important. Then, continue a dialogue of how specific policies might be improved for safer, higher quality, lower cost birth outcomes. In preparation for the first Lamaze “Hill Day,” several key documents were developed, including a policy paper and supporting documents to convey Lamaze’s core message in meetings with Congressional offices. By following this link, you can access and use these documents for advocacy efforts with your state’s representatives and in your local communities with insurers, health care providers, and hospitals.

Providing Lamaze’s unique perspective on the state and national level is extremely important and we can only be successful with the help of our members and supporters. In the coming months, we will provide a webinar on how to become an effective advocate and what Lamaze is doing to have an impact on access to high-quality childbirth education. Stay tuned!  If you are already an advocate in your community, on the county or state level or even nationally, share what you are doing to help families receive good care and improve outcomes in our comments section.

About John Richardson

John_Richardson headshot 2015

© John Richardson

John Richardson joined SmithBucklin, Lamaze International's management company, in 2001 as Director of Government Relations, Healthcare Practice Group. He guides the policy efforts of healthcare organizations whose members include healthcare administrators; allied health professionals; physicians and hospitals. His experience provides his clients with a deep understanding of policy and politics and their effects on the healthcare system.

John lobbies Congress and government agencies at the federal level and also develops strategy for state lobbying efforts. He also has experience pursuing client objectives such as the development of practice guidelines, CPT codes, evidence based research, and technologies that promote efficiencies within healthcare administration.

Prior to joining SmithBucklin, John served as an Associate to the House Committee on Appropriations for a former member of the committee. Preceding his work of 5 years on the Hill, John acquired extensive political and grassroots experience working as a campaign aide to congressional and presidential campaigns.

A New Hampshire native, he graduated with a B.A. in Political Science from Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I, and currently resides in Bowie, MD with his wife Kristin and sons Garrett and Holden. 

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