Lawmakers pushing to Deal with the nation’s rising maternal death rate — especially among Black women — heard testimony Thursday about what Congress can do to address the problem
The rate of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. is the worst of any industrialized country, and the amount of such deaths has steadily climbed over the previous 30 decades, based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2019, the latest year for which data can be obtained, the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. has been 20.1 per 100,000 live births, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.
But wide racial and ethnic disparities exist. The rate for Black women was 44 deaths per 100,000 live births, for non-Hispanic white women it was 17.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, and for Hispanic women it was 12.6 deaths per 100,000 live births.
The CDC estimates that three in five of these deaths are preventable.
“How does among the most clinically advanced countries in the world continue to neglect Black birthing people at such high rates?” Oversight and Government Affairs Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said. “To understand, we have to take the blinders off our history and acknowledge that our healthcare system — including reproductive healthcare — has been built on a heritage of systemic racism and the mistreatment of Black individuals, this legacy continues today.”
Democrats are hoping to incorporate a package of bills focused on maternal health in President Biden’s massive infrastructure and taxation bill, among the big pieces of legislation expected to pass this year.
Vice President Kamala Harris was among the lead sponsors of the package last year when she had been a senator. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said last month that departure the maternal health bills is a priority.
The bundle invests in raising esophageal vaccinations and in training more doulas, midwives and OBGYNs, enhancing access to maternal mental health care, tele-health and community health centers, and providing more funds for racial prejudice and health care disparity training. It also includes funding for further data collection that will help the government understand the source of the high death rate.
Until January, the CDC wasn’t receiving standardized data in all 50 states, so the rate of maternal deaths has been predicated on estimates rather than exact figures.
Advocates who testified Thursday also urged Congress to make permanent a provision passed from the most recent financial aid package that temporarily allows and encourages states to extend postpartum Medicaid policy for a calendar year instead of the present 60-day limit.
Low-income pregnant women who make too much to qualify for Medicaid could apply to have the program cover the expense of their delivery. Medicaid paid for 43 percent of all U.S. births in 2018, according to Congress’ Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission.
Advocates argue that not every state will choose to make the change. They would like to require the countries to expand the coverage permanently.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one-third of girls who die because of childbirth do so through pregnancy; one-third perish during delivery or in the week after, and one-third perish due to complications in the year following arrival.
“The year following arrival is a crucial, crucial time,” explained Dr. Veronica Gillispie, medical director of the Louisiana Perinatal Quality Collaborative. “Despite these incentives, not all countries will opt to extend Medicaid.”
Along with the figures and anecdotes from medical professionals and advocacy groups, Thursday’s testimony comprised wrenching personal stories from the witnesses and members of Congress.
“There is no statistic that can quantify what it’s like to tell an 18-month-old that his mommy is coming home,” said Charles Johnson, that generated an advocacy group after his wife Kira Johnson died hours after giving birth to their second son in Los Angeles.
Recounted how when she complained to her OBGYN about acute nausea and sharp pains throughout her first pregnancy, the physician told her she was fine and should return home. A week later she went into preterm labour, delivering her son Zion in 23 weeks. He weighed 1 pound 3 ounces, and spent four months in neonatal intensive care.
Bush said she went back to the exact same clinic once she got pregnant again, and this time a doctor told her she had been in preterm labour again and again ought to go home, but that the baby would not survive.
Her sister angrily threw a chair down a hallway in response, prompting physicians to phone a different doctor, who consented to place a temporary cervical cerclage, a surgical compilation which keeps the cervix closed, which allowed Bush to carry her daughter, Angel, to term.
“That is exactly what desperation looks like. That seat flying right down a hallway. This is what being your advocate looks like,” Bush stated.