NEW YORK -- Walmart is expanding health care coverage for employees who want to enlist the services of a doula, a person trained to assist women during pregnancies, to address racial inequities in maternal care.
After first offering doulas to employees in Georgia last year, the nation's largest retailer said Wednesday that it will expand the same benefit to its employees in Louisiana, Indiana and Illinois.
Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women, largely due to differences in the quality of health care, underlying chronic conditions and structural racism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Employing a doula as a part of a birthing team decreases C-sections by 50%, shortens the time of labor by 25% and decreases the need for other medical interventions by more than 50%, according to the National Black Doulas Association.
Walmart said it chose to extend coverage to Louisiana, Indiana and Illinois because of the potential for instant impact for employees who live in those three states. The company said that in Louisiana, the mortality rate is five times higher for Black mothers than it is for white mothers. Walmart said that in Indiana, 33 counties don't have OB-GYN services.
"Our goal in expanding this doula benefit, a service that is not normally covered under traditional medical plans, is not only to make pregnancy easier for mothers in these states, but to help keep them safe," wrote Lisa Woods, Walmart's vice president, physical and emotional well-being, and Warren Moore, Walmart's vice president of social determinants of health in a company blog.
Employees on the company's medical plan in can receive assistance from a doula with coverage of up to $1,000 per pregnancy, Walmart said Wednesday. The company already has in place a "Life with Baby" program, which offers no-cost resources like one-on-one coaching from a nurse, tools to track daily progress and gifts for new babies.
Other major U.S. companies are also offering doula services for employees, including CVS Health and Microsoft.