On Monday, a black maternal health omnibus bill was introduced to address the racial disparities in maternal health. Congresswoman Lauren Underwood and Congresswoman Alma Adams, who co-chair the Black Maternal Health Caucus, announced the bill via a virtual press conference with Senator Cory Booker.
For several years, the United States has had the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world. Black moms are 3 to 4 times more likely to die due to childbirth than white women. It has been proven that Black women are more at risk for complications such as hypertension, preeclampsia, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and gestational diabetes than other races. When they do experience these risks, they become more seriously ill than white women.
The 12 bills in the package will “comprehensively address every dimension of the maternal health crisis in America”. It has been endorsed by 190 organizations and cosponsored by Democrats in the House and the Senate. A summary of the bills list that the package will:
- Make critical investments in social determinants of health that influence maternal health outcomes, like housing, transportation, and nutrition.
- Provide funding to community-based organizations that are working to improve maternal health outcomes and promote equity.
- Comprehensively study the unique maternal health risks facing pregnant and postpartum veterans and support VA maternity care coordination programs.
- Grow and diversify the perinatal workforce to ensure that every mom in America receives culturally congruent maternity care and support.
- Improve data collection processes and quality measures to better understand the causes of the maternal health crisis in the United States and inform solutions to address it.
- Support moms with maternal mental health conditions and substance use disorders.
- Improve maternal health care and support for incarcerated moms.
- Invest in digital tools like telehealth to improve maternal health outcomes in underserved areas.
- Promote innovative payment models to incentivize high-quality maternity care and non-clinical perinatal support.
- Invest in federal programs to address the unique risks for and effects of COVID-19 during and after pregnancy and to advance respectful maternity care in future public health emergencies.
- Invest in community-based initiatives to reduce levels of and exposure to climate change-related risks for moms and babies.
- Promote maternal vaccinations to protect the health and safety of moms and babies.
In 2018, the U.S. began to recognize its maternal health crisis as NPR, NYT, PBS, Yale Law School, and many others were publishing articles and reports on the staggering state of maternal health. In 2019, the Black Maternal Health Caucus was established to address the crisis within Congress.
Some states have been working to tackle this issue themselves. In January of 2019, Representative Kay Khan, Representative Liz Miranda, and Senator Rebecca Rausch filed bills in Massachusetts “to reduce racial disparities in maternal health”. The year before, Massachusetts was named the healthiest state for women and children by the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings yet they recorded 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births estimating 18.3- 24.4 deaths per 1,000 Black live births.
During the coronavirus pandemic, racial disparities in health and the Black community’s distrust of the healthcare system has been more commonly discussed. While the exact statistic has not been agreed upon it has been shockingly clear that Blacks are more likely than whites to get covid yet they are less likely to get the vaccine. As the pandemic has highlighted disparities and distrust, advocates are hopeful that the recognition of these issues will bring about more action on all fronts from covid to maternal health.
The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 is very similar to one that the Black Maternal Health Caucus introduced in March of 2020 with three new additional bills. It should be noted that Vice President Harris was the lead sponsor of the 2020 package. Underwood, Adams, and Booker are optimistic that the newly Democratic Senate and White House will allow for the passage of this package.