COVID-19 Highlights the Policy Barriers and Complexities of Postpartum Sterilization

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Article, Peer-reviewed

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Multiple barriers exist to sterilization in the postpartum period. One such barrier, the Medicaid Title XIX sterilization policy, requires publicly insured patients to complete a sterilization consent form at least 30 days prior to their scheduled procedure. While this policy was set in place in the 1970s to address the practice of coerced sterilization among marginalized women, it has served as a significant barrier to obtaining the procedure in the contemporary period. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted specific complexities surrounding postpartum sterilization and created additional barriers for women desiring this contraceptive method. Despite the time constraints to perform postpartum sterilization, some hospital administrators, elective officials, and state Medicaid offices deemed sterilization as "elective." Additionally, as the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has revised telemedicine reimbursement and encouraged its increased use, it has provided no guidance for the sterilization consent form, use of oral consents, and change to the sterilization consent form expiration date. This leaves individual states to create policies and recommended procedures that may not be accepted or recognized by CMS. These barriers put significant strain on patients attempting to obtain postpartum sterilization, specifically for patients with lower incomes and women of color. CMS can support reproductive health for vulnerable populations by providing clear guidance to state Medicaid offices, extending the 180-day expiration of a sterilization consent form signed prior to the pandemic, and allowing for telemedicine oral consents with witnesses or electronic signatures.

Keywords: COVID-19; contraception; postpartum sterilization; public health policy.