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Congress, White House plan action on maternal health policies

Sandhya Raman, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — The White House and lawmakers are seeking to build momentum on what they view as a more comprehensive policy solution to address the nation’s rising rates of maternal mortality and morbidity.

Advocates and lawmakers are working on comprehensive legislation to curb maternal deaths, which has emerged as a bipartisan priority in recent years.

Maternal mortality, or death during or up to a year after childbirth, is a growing problem in the United States. The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed nation.

The maternal mortality rate was 20.1 per 100,000 live births in the U.S. in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number was more than double the rate — at 44 deaths per 100,000 live births — for non-Hispanic Black women.

Experts are concerned about how the pandemic may have exacerbated maternal mortality rates, especially in communities of color.

Minorities have suffered disproportionately at the hands of the pandemic with Black, Hispanic and American Indians experiencing much higher rates of hospitalization and death compared to white individuals. That, coupled with economic and access issues over the past year, raises concerns that the problem could get worse.

 

A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Urban Institute brief said evidence is currently limited about how the pandemic has affected the quality of maternal care and if policies adopted during the past year, like expanding telehealth, helped reduce inequities.

“When the pandemic began, interviewees noted that attention and funding shifted away from maternal health efforts. Health, public health, social service, and other systems were unprepared,” the authors wrote.

But movement on new policies on the legislative and executive fronts could help curb some of these disparities.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee is slated to hold a hearing examining the Black maternal health crisis on Thursday. The committee and the Black Maternal Health Caucus plan to hold a joint press conference before the hearing.

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