Elizabeth (Izzy) Montgomery, MPA
Beginning in 2023, those who breastfeed will have no out-of-pocket costs for the purchase of certain types of breast pumps and supplies, according to updated guidance on coverage for women’s preventive services released by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) in January. The guidance states that health insurance plans subject to the Affordable Care Act must cover breastfeeding equipment and supplies, specifically “double electric breast pumps (including pump parts and maintenance) and breast milk storage supplies.”
The updated guidance is significant because it marks the first time double electric breast pumps have been included in a preventive services recommendation. In the past, many insurers have limited coverage for these types of pumps unless a breastfeeding person had failed in using a manual pump. The guidance states, “Access to double electric breast pumps should be a priority to optimize breastfeeding and should not be predicated on prior failure of a manual pump.”
The guidelines were developed by the Women’s Preventive Services Initiative (WPSI), a panel of experts created in 2016 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists through a cooperative agreement with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). WPSI reviews preventive services guidelines for women every two years, or more frequently if emerging topics necessitate expert review. The panel’s recommendations become finalized when accepted by HRSA.
The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented, including reduced risks of many chronic diseases among infants, health benefits for mothers, and healthy bonding between infants and mothers. Despite these benefits, only one in four infants are exclusively breastfed as recommended for the first six months of their lives. Ensuring that breastfeeding persons have the equipment and supplies needed to successfully breastfeed is an important public health goal.
Efforts to promote breastfeeding have been an integral component of Healthy Active Arkansas, a statewide initiative of public and private partners to increase the number of Arkansans who are at a healthy weight. The initiative prioritizes breastfeeding through the following strategies:
The initiative has had some success in breastfeeding promotion in Arkansas. In 2018, Healthy Active Arkansas supported the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in the opening of a “Mother’s Room” for breastfeeding, marking the second breastfeeding space established at the airport. In 2021, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock partnered with Healthy Active Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Health to open lactation rooms on campus for breastfeeding persons.
Additionally, Healthy Active Arkansas and Baptist Health hosted a summit in 2018 that brought together representatives from every delivery hospital in the state for support in attaining designation as “Baby-Friendly” hospitals. The designation is bestowed by Baby-Friendly USA, the accrediting body for the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, a global initiative that recognizes hospitals that provide high-quality care for mothers to initiate and continue breastfeeding. In Arkansas, eight hospitals have been designated as Baby-Friendly since 2015: Baptist Health-Arkadelphia, Baptist Health-Little Rock, Baptist Health-Conway, Baptist Health-Stuttgart, North Arkansas Regional Medical Center, Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville, Northwest Medical Center-Willow Creek Women’s Hospital, and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.