WASHINGTON – House Democrats are pushing four bills to improve maternal health in an attempt to counter the country’s rising maternal mortality and morbidity rates. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the maternal mortality rate in the United States has more than doubled since 1987, from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births to 16.7 in 2016 — and is one of only three countries in the world where the rate is rising. The CDC says 60% of these deaths were preventable.
Last December, in a bipartisan effort to reverse the trend, the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act was signed into law by President Donald Trump, authorizing grants for states to establish maternal mortality review committees to analyze the causes of maternal mortality and use data to identify solutions.
Since the legislation passed, all 50 states have either established a maternal mortality review committees or are in the process of developing such bodies.
There appears to be bipartisan backing for the Democrats’ proposals.
“Addressing maternal mortality is one of my top priorities,” Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, a former gynecologist, said in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s health subcommittee hearing Tuesday morning. “Over the course of this year, I’ve been carefully looking at the right next step to build on the success we had last year.”
The health committee is still considering the four bills.
Currently, women are kicked off of Medicaid two months after they give birth, but the pending legislation seeks to extend a mother’s Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum. The CDC found that one-third of maternal deaths happen one week to one year after having a baby.
Several states are already undertaking the initiative to expand coverage to one year, including Texas, Illinois, New Jersey, South Carolina and California.
The House legislation also aims to correct racial disparities. Black women are three to four times more likely to die, and Native American women are three times more likely to die because of pregnancy-related complications. Even when controlling for insurance status and income, black women are more likely to receive poorer quality care, according to an Institute of Medicine Report.
“Women of color are not being heard,” Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, told the committee Tuesday.
Harris said there is a growing body of evidence that the stress of discrimination and racism has a “weathering” effect on the body, and can lead to poor health outcomes and early death.
The four bills aim for a holistic approach to maternal health, including raising the quality of care before, during, and after pregnancy by implementing standardized care practices, funding implicit bias and cultural competency training for healthcare professionals, and creating better data collection methods.
“We’re not going to rest until we have solid legislation that addresses this,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, chairwoman of the health subcommittee. “We have a lot of work to do.”