In an effort to make proper pre-natal care available to more pregnant women, effective January 1, the Louisiana Department of Health implemented the LaMOMS program. By expanding income eligibility guidelines, LaMOMS will make Medicaid coverage available to between 5,000-6,000 additional Louisiana women annually.

The expanded guidelines allow pregnant women with an income of up to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level to be eligible for pre-natal services through Medicaid. This means that a woman in a family of four (unborn child is included in family size) can have a monthly household income around $3,000 per month and still qualify for this program. These guidelines match those put in place in recent years for children through the Louisiana Children's Health Insurance Program (LaCHIP).

Crystal Paris, a native of Leesville, recently became pregnant and will benefit from the new LaMOMS program. She's a married, stay-at-home mom, with a family income of about $34,000 a year. Her health insurance doesn't cover the pregnancy that is estimated to cost about $8,000.

"I tried to enroll in Medicaid but could not qualify due to our income," she explained. "But, the Medicaid worker in my parish told me that he would review my application in January when the income limits would increase due to LaMOMS. In January I got the letter that said I was eligible for coverage."

Parish she was so excited that she could have done cartwheels.

"I was so excited and relieved," she said. "And by becoming eligible for LaMOMS, I had an easier time getting approved for WIC assistance that helps with getting the proper nutrition during my pregnancy."

A great deal of progress has been made in recent years through expansions in LDH's Medicaid Program to improve the long-term health care of all Louisiana citizens, especially children. However, as numerous studies have shown, health coverage for children starting at birth is not early enough. LDH Secretary David W. Hood notes that in order to avoid many health problems for children later in life, expectant mothers need to receive proper pre-natal care.

"If those of us involved in Louisiana's health system are going to improve the historically poor health outcomes of our state's citizens, we need to take smart steps," said Hood. "Making sure that more expectant mothers get proper prenatal care through LaMOMS is just one of those steps."

Hood adds that preliminary research here in Louisiana has shown that fewer low birthweight babies are born to teen moms who have Medicaid or LaCHIP coverage than to teen moms who lack any type of health insurance. This program is an expansion of Medicaid eligibility. However, on average, low birthweight babies incur medical bills well over $100,000 in their first year. Thus, LaMOMS is actually expected to save the state money annually.

"A lack of pre-natal care can result in tragic and long-lasting difficulties for children," said Dr. Michael Kudla of Lake Charles, President of the Louisiana Chapter of the American College of OB/GYNS. "By making such care more accessible, this program can greatly benefit the people of Louisiana."

LDH will be collaborating with programs such as Louisiana Covering Kids and Families to inform families about LaMOMS with outreach to businesses and other community-based organizations throughout the state.

Through Medicaid, LaMOMS will pay for pregnancy-related services, delivery and care up to 60 days after the pregnancy ends including doctor visits, lab work/tests, prescription medicines and hospital care. For more information, or to receive a LaMOMS application, call toll-free, 1-888-342-6207, or visit LaMOMS on the web at .

NOTE TO EDITORS OUTSIDE BATON ROUGE AREA: Footage from the news conference will also be available on a satellite feed on Wednesday, January 22 from 3:30 p.m. (CT) at TELSTAR 5 transponder 9. Downlink frequency is 3880 with audio on 6.2 and 6.8.

For assistance in setting up interviews with recipients, physicians or LaMOMS representatives, please contact Kyle Viator via phone via pager 888-873-9131