The Louisiana Department of Health won’t get an Office of Women’s Health anytime soon.
House Bill 193, introduced by Rep. Denise Marcelle (D-Baton Rouge), which would have created within the health department an office “responsible for leading, consolidating, and coordinating efforts across the state that are intended to improve women’s health outcomes” effectively died in the Louisiana Legislature after the bill was moved to committee and never considered.
After passing unanimously in the Louisiana House of Representatives May 27, the legislation was sent to the Senate Finance Committee, but Sen. Mack “Bodi” White (R-Baton Rouge), chairman of the committee, never took it up.
“I’m a little disappointed,” Marcelle told the Illuminator Wednesday. “It got through all of the hurdles with no opposition. I didn’t think it was going to be that difficult in the last two weeks to get it heard and off the floor… I guess some politics was in play.”
According to the fiscal note on the bill, adding an Office of Women’s Health would have cost the state $1.8 million over five years in additional staff salaries, operating costs and professional services.
Marcelle said she also waited to push the bill because then-Sen. Troy Carter (D-New Orleans), who is now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, had identical legislation moving through the legislature in April. That legislation, Senate Bill 72, also stalled out after Carter left for Congress.
The Louisiana State Legislature did however pass Sen. Regina Barrow’s (D-Baton Rouge) Senate Bill 133, which would direct the state health department to “serve as a foundational resource addressing health care disparities for women and vulnerable populations.”
While Marcelle’s bill would have designated an office to be “responsible for leading, consolidating, and coordinating efforts across the state geared toward improving women’s health outcomes through policy, education, evidence-based practices, programs, and services,” Barrow’s bill calls for the department to focus more on health equity.
Unlike Marcelle’s bill, Barrow’s bill would cost the state nothing, as it would simply “create a workload increase for the LA Department of Health” rather than hire additional personnel, according to the fiscal note.
Louisiana has the second highest infant mortality rate in the U.S.; 7.6 infants die per 1000 live births. Black women in Louisiana are four times as likely as White women to die from complications related to pregnancy, and the Black infant mortality rate, 10.5 infants per one thousand live births, is more than twice the rate for White Louisianans.
Alma Stewart, president and founder of the Louisiana Center for Health Equity, said during a Senate Committee on Health and Welfare hearing in April that such an office would be “dedicated solely to improving the dismal health outcomes for women in this state.”
“We are ranked 49th nationally in overall health outcomes for women and children,” Stewart said during the committee, but she added that Louisiana can improve its standing by improving birth outcomes, chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity and social conditions like hunger and food insecurity among women.
“I’m sure you’ll see this bill again next session,” Marcelle said Wednesday.