The NCSL Blog


By Tahra Johnson

Teams of legislators, state health officials, maternal and child health directors, Medicaid officials and a pediatrician converged in Baltimore last month for a multi-state invitational meeting on improving maternal and child's health convened by NCSL.

Georgia's teamThe meeting,  Learning Collaborative on Improving Quality and Access to Care in Maternal and Child Health, was the third similar collaborative meeting with various states since 2015. Teams from Georgia (pictured at left), Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia attended.

Together, the state teams connected with and learned from other policymakers and experts about ways to improve systems of care for maternal and child health populations.

“I was able to learn from my immediate colleagues as well as those in our neighboring states,” said Representative Pam Dickerson of Georgia (D).

This three-day conference provided state teams the opportunity to listen to a variety of experts who spoke on topics related to best practices for improving access to quality health care, preventive health initiatives and family engagement in policy decision making.

Key focus areas of the meeting were:

  • Increasing continuity of coverage and care for pregnant women and children: The expression goes “once you have seen one state’s Medicaid program, you have seen exactly one state’s Medicaid program.” Each state handles coverage for pregnant women and children differently through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Participants heard from a national expert as well as three state examples about insurance coverage from Arkansas, Maryland and Virginia. Maryland’s CHIP program has new initiatives to reduce lead exposure and childhood asthma. Arkansas highlighted its “Following Baby Back Home” program, a home-visiting program for babies coming out of the Neonatal Insensitive Care Unit (NICU). Virginia shared successful inter-agency partnerships around its medical home and the home-visiting network.
  • Improving systems of care for children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN):  Experts highlighted the key elements of health care delivery transformation that affect CYSHCN and discussed some policy levers that states can use to improve the health care delivery systems. Mississippi highlighted its innovative programing for this population including a partnership with 13 other states. Partner states shared information on improving systems of care for CYSHCN and their efforts implementing a call resource center for families in their state. Texas highlighted the STAR Program, a Medicaid managed care program specifically tailored for the needs of CYSHCN.
  • Implementing Bright Futures: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other experts presented information on Bright Futures, a set of national guidelines on optimal preventative health care for children and youth. The session balanced implementing national standards while considering the unique characteristics of various states. Georgia’s state health official, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, featured their “Talk with Me Baby” program, highlighting the evidence and importance of efforts to improve early brain development. West Virginia AAP Chapter President Dr. John Phillips highlighted the state’s implementation of Bright Futures and the state’s success with immunization rates through public-private collaboration.
  • Family engagement in policy decision making: Julie Beckett shared her experience from initiating the first ever state waiver, known as the Katie Beckett waiver, which allowed Julie to receive the support that her family, and many other families, needed to care for their children at home. Tennessee’s director of Children’s Special Services Program, Jacqueline Johnson, shared her state’s experience in engaging families in their department’s policymaking process. Arkansas State Representative Deborah Ferguson shared her experience working with families as a private practice dentist and in the legislature.

The state teams had time to discuss these topics during breakout sessions throughout the conference and constructed team action plans based on what they learned and knew about their own states. The meeting provided an atmosphere for legislators, who otherwise might not have had the opportunity, to convene and learn from one another. Additional information about the conference’s agenda and presentations from expert panelists can be found here.

This meeting was supported by grants from the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau and was co-sponsored by the AAP, the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the National Academy for State Health Policy and the National Governors Association.
Maternal and Child Health State map

This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number UC4MC28038, Alliance for Innovation on Maternal and Child Health, Expanding Access to Care for Maternal and Child Health Populations. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.

Tahra Johnson is a program manager with NCSL's Health program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.