Kamala Harris Rolls Out Plan to Reduce High U.S. Maternal Mortality Rates

By Kelsey Butler
Bloomberg
Dec. 7, 2021, 4:04 P.M. – Updated on Dec. 7, 2021, 4:04 P.M.

Vice President Kamala Harris Tuesday announced a plan to reduce the country’s alarmingly high maternal mortality rate by improving pregnancy and postpartum care nationwide.  

The strategy includes calling for states to extend postpartum coverage under Medicaid from 2 to 12 months and designating “birthing-friendly” hospitals. 

“Maternal mortality and morbidity is a serious crisis and one that endangers both public health and economic growth,” Harris said at a White House event.

Maternal mortality in the U.S. has been on the rise in recent years — with the rate of deaths more than double that of other rich nations like France, Canada and the United Kingdom. Black and Indigenous women are more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes compared to their White peers.

The Biden administration is proposing $3 billion for maternal health initiatives as part of the Build Back Better Act, which the House of Representatives has already passed. Much of the legislation, however, is under debate in the Senate and is likely to undergo extensive revisions before becoming law. Under the current proposal, money would be set aside for nursing school grants to study maternal mortality and health in minority communities. Funding would also be provided for doulas, which improve birth outcomes, and for growing the maternal mental health workforce. 

Until then, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has updated its guidance for state Medicaid programs to expand coverage and it will begin the process of selecting the best quality health centers for receiving maternal care. 

“My entire lifetime we’ve seen inaction and persistent disparities, and it’s shameful,” Representative Lauren Underwood said in an interview with Bloomberg News. “Now we have the opportunity to save moms’ lives.”

Underwood introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act in early 2020 after the death of her friend Shalon Irving from pregnancy-related complications three years earlier. Build Back Better includes many of its elements, though some, like funding for maternal health care for incarcerated moms didn’t make it to the final bill. 

At the summit, Harris said that a group of 20 companies and nonprofits have committed $20 million for improving maternal health in the U.S., and another $150 million globally. CVS Health Corp. pledged $1.8 million for video resources and clinical training; Merck & Co. is providing $15 million for community-based organizations that address maternal health inequity.

This month, President Joe Biden signed the Protecting Moms Who Served Act, which sets aside $15 million for childbirth preparation classes, parenting classes and breastfeeding support for veterans. 

To contact the author of this story:
Kelsey Butler in New York at kbutler55@bloomberg.net© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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