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W&M Alum, Wherry, Speaks about Women’s Health and Public Policy

Laura Wherry

The Schroeder Center for Health Policy welcomed its first speaker, W&M economics alum (BA, ‘03) Laura Wherry, to W&M as part of its Spring 2022 speaker series on “Women’s Health.”  Dr. Wherry received her PhD in Public Policy from the University of Chicago’s Harris School, and she is currently an Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Service at New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.  She has written extensively on women’s health as it relates to Medicaid expansion, health care access and utilization, and the economic consequences of being denied an abortion, among other areas.  Her talk to the W&M community focused specifically on “Women’s Health and Public Policy.”

Dr. Wherry began her talk by discussing pregnancy-related care under Medicaid, which provides health care coverage in the U.S. for eligible low-income individuals.  She described earlier concerns by legislators about the U.S.’s poor infant health rankings, which led to the gradual expansion of access to pregnancy-related care.  Medicaid now requires that states provide prenatal and delivery care, as well as 60 days of postpartum care, for pregnant low-income women.  In 2020, Dr. Wherry noted, over 40% of all U.S. births were paid for by Medicaid. 

The benefits of pregnancy care under the Medicaid program, according to Dr. Wherry, are well-documented.  For example, the expansion of pregnancy care has resulted in improvements in women’s use of prenatal care and a decrease in infant mortality.  In addition, she noted that the children of mothers who gained Medicaid coverage during their pregnancy showed better health and economic well-being between the ages of 19 and 36 than the children of mothers who did not receive Medicaid coverage.  Moreover, these benefits extended even to the grandchildren of these Medicaid-covered women.  The overall benefits of Medicaid’s pregnancy coverage, Dr. Wherry stated, outweigh the program’s costs.  

Dr. Wherry then moved on to discuss Medicaid’s non-pregnancy related health care, such as family planning services.   She highlighted that this type of care resulted in greater contraceptive and preventive service use, fewer births, greater pre-pregnancy health insurance, earlier prenatal care use, and increased folic acid intake. 

 Dr. Wherry concluded her talk with a discussion of the gestation limits for abortion, stating that women who wanted but were denied an abortion had greater financial distress than did women who received an abortion.  This is primarily due to the financial costs associated with raising an additional child.  Medicaid, Dr. Wherry stated, only covers abortions in certain limited cases.

At the conclusion of her talk, W&M students participated in a lively discussion with Dr. Wherry about how researchers can share their results with policymakers, the difficulty in determining casual connections in research, the divergent opinions on when and how government can intervene, developing policies to address racial basis in health care, and access to perinatal mental health.

The Schroeder Center for Health Policy’s second talk in its speaker series on “Women’s Health” will take place on April 4, 2022 with W&M alum (BA, Public Policy and History, ‘06) Courtney Hesselbacher.  Ms. Hesselbacher will discuss her work as U.S. Enterprise Portfolio Director at Gallup and the Hologic Women’s Global Women’s Health Index.  To attend and register for the Zoom link, please visit the Schroeder Center’s website (