Child Health

Addressing Our Nation’s Alarming Maternal Mortality Rates

December 6, 2019 | National

Each year, an estimated 700 women in the United States die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. Since the CDC began tracking maternal mortality rates in 1987, the United States has seen a sharp increase in pregnancy-related deaths, most of which are entirely preventable. The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate amongst developed countries and is only one of 13 countries where the maternal mortality rate is worse now than it was 25 years ago. Simply put, pregnant women are more likely to die in the United States than in any other high-income country. This is especially devastating for Black women who are dying at 3-4 times the rate of white women from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. In November, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce marked up two bills that, if passed, would take steps to address this urgent crisis.

The Maternal Health Quality Improvement Act would address implicit biases and maternal health disparities.

Structural racism leads to inequitable health outcomes and weathering effects on Black women’s physical and mental health, and implicit biases impact Black women’s quality of care and how seriously their pain is taken compared to their white counterparts. To address this, the Maternal Health Quality Improvement Act would provide:

  • Funding for implicit bias training programs for medical providers
  • Funding for Perinatal Quality Collaboratives, networks of teams that work to improve the quality of pregnancy-related and infant care
  • Funding to improve rural maternal health outcomes

The Helping MOMS Act would expand health care coverage following birth.

Through Medicaid, maternity care is mandatory without cost-sharing and coverage is required before, during, and after birth. However, the coverage typically ends just 60 days after birth even though more than 10 percent of pregnancy-related deaths occur 43-365 days postpartum. To address this gap in coverage, the Helping MOMS Act would include:

  • Incentives for states to extend Medicaid coverage for a full year postpartum
  • Study of coverage of doula services under state Medicaid programs
  • Study of the effects of Medicaid coverage for a full year postpartum, specifically for low-income women and women of color

There are many steps federal, state, and local policymakers can take to help break this cycle of dramatically increased maternal mortality, especially among Black women. We must make the case for policies to improve and eliminate racial disparities in access to quality prenatal and postnatal care and to educate and train health care professionals at all levels. It is essential health care professionals are equipped to handle pregnancy-related complications and get new mothers the extra help and treatment they need for their own care and that of their infants. We are hopeful Congress will move forward with these two bills and take action on additional bills that have already been introduced. Moms and babies cannot wait.