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With One U.S. Senate Seat Up For Grabs In PA, The Field Continues To Grow

Andrew Harnik

On today’s program: A preview of the race for Pat Toomey’s Senate seat, which a pool of candidates are vying to fill, most recently including Congressman Conor Lamb; we learn what impact a year of postpartum health care coverage could have on parents when Medicaid access is expanded in April; and how Allegheny County is vaccinating raccoons against rabies.

Conor Lamb announces run for U.S. Senate
(0:00 - 9:55)

Democratic Congressman Conor Lamb announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate last Friday to replace Republican Pat Toomey, who is not running for re-election.

Lamb, whose district includes some of Pittsburgh's suburbs and all of Beaver County, is joining a crowded race in the Democratic primary.

"Mr. Lamb becomes part of a big four," says WESA government and accountability editor Chris Potter. "The best known candidate out here at least is Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the former mayor of Braddock. Philadelphia State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta has jumped in the race, as has Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh."

Fetterman, who announced his candidacy in February, leads in fundraising with about $3 million. Lamb follows with $1.7 million cash on hand.

Potter says Lamb is the most moderate of the major Democratic candidates, while Kenyatta and Fetterman are casting themselves as more progressive.

"This is the big question for Democrats — just what route they want to take. There are some Democrats who think the way to win is to fire up that base and be as progressive as you can," Potter says. "On the other hand, there are Democrats who say 'Look, Joe Biden won this state.' They say we should be thinking about reaching out and connecting with voters across the board, and there's this sense that Conor Lamb, by virtue of how he's positioned himself, would be the best person to capture a very purple state."

Republican candidates include Sean Parnell, who ran for Lamb's house seat in 2020; Jeff Bartos, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018; Kathy Barnette, a right wing political commentator; and Carla Sands, who served as Ambassador to Denmark in the Trump administration.

According to Potter, the Republican candidates have focused on energizing their base to clear the primary.

"I think you see a lot of folks running for the Trump endorsement,” says Potter. “I think that's what's driving so much of that primary contest on the GOP side."

Pennsylvania plans to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage, starting April 2022
(10:00 - 17:15) 

Pennsylvania plans to extend medicaid coverage for postpartum birthing parents for up to a year following the birth of their baby, a change that would take effect next April. Under the current rules, parents with Medicaid coverage lose it 60 days after giving birth.

“This [expansion] is essential,” says Jada Shirriel, chief executive director at Healthy Start Pittsburgh.

“When we have a mom who loses her coverage postpartum, then her ability to take care of her health independent of the baby suffers,” says Shirriel. “When we look at the propensity to get pregnant again, if mom had any chronic health conditions, she’s back at square one with not having been able to have access to health care all of that time in between those pregnancies.”

Shirriel says the expansion allows providers to track how birthing parents are doing the full first year after birth, and “support women’s health more holistically.”

Of the thousand parents Healthy Start serves annually, Shirriel says about 80% of them are on Medicaid.

She says when parents lose coverage 60 days after giving birth, their options for health care shrink. In addition, health risks can take effect postpartum.

“We think a lot about hemorrhage which is something that may happen immediately during the birth process or immediately postpartum, but there are lots of other conditions, particularly if mom had any other chronic health conditions during her pregnancy or before,” says Shirriel.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. has one of the highest maternal mortality rates compared to similar nations.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health analyzed 457 pregnancy-associated deaths from 2013 to 2018, including those that occurred while pregnant or within a year of pregnancy. The analysis found Medicaid was the primary insurance payer in 53% of pregnancy-associated deaths and nearly 60% of all pregnancy-associated deaths came between six weeks and one year after giving birth, largely outside of the 60-day limitation on coverage.

Allegheny County is vaccinating raccoons against rabies
(17:30 - 22:30) 

If you see what looks like ketchup packets falling from the sky this week, or smell rotting fish in your back alley, don’t be alarmed. It’s part of the annual raccoon vaccine baiting program in Allegheny County.

90.5 WESA’s Sarah Boden reports on why Pittsburgh is key to eliminating rabies among North American raccoons.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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