Two New Bi-partisan Bills Aim To Address the U.S.’s Maternal Mortality Crisis

Supermajority Education Fund

November 21, 2019

The United States’ staggering maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the developed world. Now, two bipartisan bills that aim to address the crisis are poised to head onto the House floor after behind-the-scenes negotiations, Politico reported on Tuesday. 

The U.S. is the only country in which the maternal mortality rate has risen over time. Between 2000 and 2014, the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. increased by 26 percent, while nearly every other country saw their rates decrease. In December 2018, the Commonwealth Fund found that American women have the greatest risk of dying from pregnancy complications among ten other high-income countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. 

The two bills — H.R. 4995 and H.R. 4996 — are meant to address different factors contributing to the overall crisis. Part of H.R. 4995’s focus is to train health care providers to better address the racial biases in caring for mothers of color while H.R. 4996 is directed at offering incentives for states to extend Medicaid or CHIP coverage to new parent; although every state has to offer Medicaid to low-income women during pregnancy, many are barred from access just 60 days after giving birth.

Anti-Blackness in the medical industry is well-documented generally, but especially so in the case of the maternal mortality crisis. Black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, and neither their education nor socio-economic status makes much of a difference in affecting this rate. A 2019 CDC study that showed college-educated Black women were more likely than white women with less than a high school education to have pregnancy-related deaths.  

It is important, therefore, for legislation attempting to impact maternal mortality rates address race. As Monifa Bandele, Vice President of MomsRising, an organization tackling critical issues facing women, told Supermajority News, “White supremacy is killing [Black women] and if you need evidence, maternal health outcomes have all of the receipts. Solutions to this maternal mortality crisis must tackle the prevalent and systemic anti-Black racism that exists throughout our healthcare system.”

High profile Black women have been speaking out about this issue in recent years, too. For example, Serena Williams wrote an article published by CNN in 2018 about how she nearly died giving birth to her daughter.

While these bills may be a step in the right direction, Politico reported that a letter co-signed by NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and other advocates says that H.R. 4996 doesn’t go far enough for pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid. The letter pushes the federal government to “make a significant financial investment to ensure this coverage is meaningful.”

Bandele also noted that while H.R. 4995 is a good step in and of itself, it should also include increasing measures of accountability for hospitals if they don’t improve their outcomes. “Training is great, but we need to see the impact of that training and accountability if we do not.”