House passes freestanding birthing center bill

March 27, 2024 | 12:14 am

Updated March 26, 2024 | 9:46 pm

Graphic by Owensboro Times

A bipartisan bill that would pave the way for freestanding birthing centers to operate in Kentucky received House approval Tuesday.

House Bill 199 would regulate freestanding birthing centers and exempt ones with no more than four beds from the certificate of need requirement.

Primary sponsor House Majority Whip Jason Nemes, R-Middletown, said Kentucky would join 43 other states in safely regulating and permitting the operation of freestanding birthing centers.

“This is another safe alternative for a mother having a baby at a hospital or at home,” he said.

A floor amendment filed by Nemes and adopted by the House addresses some of the safety concerns of healthcare stakeholders, Nemes said.

Under the amended HB 199, freestanding birthing centers would be required to be insured and have a physician or licensed advanced practice registered nurse serve as a clinical director. The bill would also require the centers to be located within 30 miles of a hospital and enter into a transfer agreement with a hospital.

Additionally, the floor amendment requires the centers to obtain written, informed consent from each patient, Nemes said.

HB 199 co-sponsor Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, spoke on the legislation alongside Nemes. She said 73 out of Kentucky’s 120 counties do not have an OBGYN. Allowing freestanding birthing centers should help lower Kentucky’s high maternal mortality rate, she said.

“Freestanding birthing centers utilizing midwifery-led care are an important tool in improving maternal health outcomes for both mother and infant and in reducing health outcome disparities,” Willner added.

Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, asked Nemes how HB 199 ensures the safety of freestanding birthing centers.

Since not every mother would be a good candidate for a freestanding birthing center, Nemes said the clinical director would be charged with making that determination. Only low-risk, healthy pregnancies would qualify. The centers would transfer a patient – whether that be a mother or a baby – to a nearby, local hospital if needed, he added.

King said she does not support HB 199 due to safety concerns.

“One-third of home births end up in emergency transport to a hospital … If we really care about the health and safety of mom – keeping her healthy and the healthy birth of a baby – I will speak against this type of situation all the time,” King said.

The House approved HB 199 by a 69-25 vote.

House Minority Caucus Chair Cherlynn Stevenson, D-Lexington, and Rep. Courtney Gilbert, R-Hodgenville, shared why they voted “yes” on the bill on the House floor.

Stevenson said “a lot of good work” has gone into HB 199.

“I do believe that (freestanding birthing centers) will be safe, and ultimately I believe women should have a choice in all their health care decisions, she said.

Gilbert said she thinks HB 199 is “a wonderful opportunity” for people in the profession and mothers.

“I am happy to give my support to this bill today. I, myself, am the product of a home birth,” she added.

HB 199 now goes before the Senate for consideration.

Information from the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission.

March 27, 2024 | 12:14 am

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