Sean Hackbarth Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


August 11, 2021


U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Race-based maternal health disparities have remained a significant challenge in the United States for many years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. These disparities have persisted over time and across age groups and remain present, even among those with higher education.

A recent event gathered private and public sector leaders to discuss remedies to address these disparities, the future of telehealth medicine for prenatal care, and ways for more black mothers to engage with medical professionals regarding their care. Here are some takeaways from the event.

Need for Political Will

Rep. Lauran Underwood (D-IL) joined Latricia Boone, the Chamber’s Vice President of the Equality of Opportunity Initiative for a fireside chat to set the stage and discuss legislative opportunities to close these gaps. “We’re long overdue to take action on maternal-related deaths, particularly in communities of color, because a majority of these deaths are preventable,” she explained. “We know what the solutions are. We’ve just not seen the political will or the prioritization.”

Rep. Underwood is working on a dozen pieces of legislation to reduce maternal-related deaths. “We have the Moms Matter Act, which is addressing mental health and substance use disorders, which are becoming a leading cause of maternal death in this country,” she said. “We have legislation related to COVID-19 because … women of color are more likely to get severe COVID. And when they do, they have really negative birth outcomes.”

Private Sector Takes Action

The private sector plays an important role is developing solutions, and they’re working on it right now.

“Leveraging our data analytics, we’re able to drill down to zip code, race, socio-economic status. This gives us a granular view of the patients that we serve,” Nadia Primus, Manager of Quality and Safety Improvement for Hackensack Meridian Health, explained. “We look at everything we got right, and the things we didn’t get so right. From this we’re able to chart improvement work at each of our sites.”

Expanding telehealth is another innovative approach. “We're looking at how to redesign prenatal care in a way where we can provide better care and be less disruptive to patients,” said Dr. Alan Fishman, Specialty Medical Officer for maternal-fetal medicine at Mednax National Medical Group. “We've partnered with a technology company that has a device where we can provide remote, fetal monitoring and vitals monitoring.”

Also, simply giving mothers a voice in their care and listening to them can be effective. “I think a lot of hospitals right now [are talking about] the maternal health disparities challenge [and] the maternal health crisis,” explained Trashaun Powell of the Racial Disparity Task Force at the Preeclampsia Foundation. “What we want to also look at is: Where is the survivor's perspective?”

Dr. Juliet Nevins, Clinical Solution Medical Director for Aetna, agreed: “We want them to have a voice, but these moms [are] not well. They're exhausted and they need an objective person standing by them who can speak on their behalf.”

There is a great deal of work that needs to be done to address maternal healthcare disparities, and the U.S. Chamber will continue working with all partners to ensure progress continues to be made. Together we can drive meaningful change through public policy and private sector solutions.

This event was part of the U.S. Chamber’s Equality of Opportunity Initiative, an effort to develop real, sustainable solutions to help close race-based opportunity gaps.

About the authors

Sean Hackbarth

Sean Hackbarth

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.

Read more