Health Care News

Black Maternal Health Week: Congress Takes Action

Today’s guest blog post is by Eskedar Girmash, Federal Affairs Spring ’19 Intern

U.S. House Representatives Lauren Underwood (IL-14) and Alma Adams (NC-12) launched the Black Maternal Health Caucus earlier this month to elevate issues of maternal health inequities. Fifty-seven Congressional Members joined the caucus on the first day, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD-05) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (SC-6).

“The facts are simple. Black women are dying of preventable, pregnancy-related complications at an alarming rate, and as a black mother and grandmother, it’s personal to me,” said Rep. Adams. Underwood echoed these sentiments as she told Elle Magazine, “I’m the youngest black women to ever serve in Congress and I’m the only black woman of reproductive age in the Congress, so I’m really happy to be able to be a leading voice on this important issue.”

The caucus was initiated shortly before the start of this year’s Black Maternal Health Week which ran April 11 to 17. This campaign is founded to deepen the national conversation about black maternal health and foster policy solutions on a national scale. The issue of maternal health has drawn heightened interest after a spate of studies revealed that maternal mortality rates have steadily increased in the U.S. from 18.8 percent in 2000, to 23.8 percent in 2014, and to 26.6 percent in 2018. African-American mothers disproportionately account for these percentages. There are 43 deaths per 100,000 live births for African-American women compared to 12.7 deaths per 100,000 live births for white women. Moreover, African American women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth complications compared to non-Hispanic white women. The graphic below highlights the relationship between institutional racism and poor health outcomes for black mothers.

Many health centers are already working to address maternal health inequities among their patient populations.

  • 49 percentof health centers met or exceeded the Healthy People 2020 goal to increase the proportion of pregnant women who receive early and adequate prenatal care in the first trimester
  • 68 percent of pregnant women at health centers receive prenatal care within the first trimester compared to 5% of women at other provider
  • 46 percent of health centers met or exceeded Healthy People 2020 goals to reduce the proportion of infants born at a low birth weight.

Congress is also taking action to combat discriminatory institutional practices that contribute to maternal health inequities. Representative Robin Kelly (IL-02) introduced the MOMMA ACT (H.R. 5977) to help reverse the nation’s rising maternal mortality rate. The bill highlights the correlation between the stress of racism and one’s birthing outcomes and has five key proposals to address these issues:

  • Expand Care Access to the Full Postpartum Period (1 year) for Mothers. Right now, Medicaid pays for half of all births, but it only covers two months of postpartum care. Under the MOMMA Act, mothers will get a full year’s access to care after delivery.
  • Standardize Data Collection and empower a designated federal agency to collect uniform data. Currently, there is no federal entity that collects data on official maternal mortality rates. The MOMMA Act requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to work with states to accurately collect data.
  • Ensure the Sharing of Best Practices Between Practitioners and Hospital Systems. The goal is that both work together to create a safe environment for mothers.
  • Establish and Enforces National Emergency Obstetric Protocols. Currently, accredited hospitals focus primarily on infant care. The MOMMA Act will ensure that maternal and postpartum care is a priority too.
  • Improve Access to Culturally-Competent Care. The MOMMA Act intends to break down structural racism and to train hospitals on the needs of all American mothers.

NACHC is engaged with Congress about the MOMMA Act and other related legislation that addresses maternal health outcomes. We are also working with partner organizations and Congress to encourage policies and programs that promote healthy birthing outcomes for mothers of all identities and backgrounds. We would love to hear about the innovative work that your health center is involved in regarding maternal health – please share your thoughts with NACHC Federal Affairs team at federalaffairs@nachc.org.

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