How the U.S. Can Address Maternal Healthcare Disparities

To end maternal healthcare disparities in the United States, government leaders must address socioeconomic inequalities.


Air Date: July 28, 2021

Moderator: Katie Mahoney, Vice President, Health Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Latricia Boone, Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Laura Kusisto, National Legal Affairs Reporter, Wall Street Journal

Featured Guests: Lauren Underwood, United States Representative, Illinois, Dr. Alan Fishman, Speciality Medical Officer for Maternal Fetal Medicine, Mednax National Medical Group, Nadia K. Primus, Manager of Quality and Safety Improvement, Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey, Trashaun Powell, Racial Disparity Task Force, Preeclampsia Foundation, Dr. Juliet M. Nevins, Clinical Solution Medical Director, Aetna

The United States has faced a maternal healthcare disparity 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 groups with higher education.

In an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, private and public sector leaders discussed how representatives are taking action against maternal healthcare disparities, the future of telehealth medicine for prenatal care, and why it’s important for mothers to have a say in their care.

Representatives Are Taking Action to End Maternal Healthcare Disparities

Lauren Underwood, U.S. Representative for Illinois’ 14th Congressional District, spoke about the creation of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, “a comprehensive suite of 12 bills aiming to end our nation's maternal mortality crisis.”

“The Momnibus is looking at our issues like social determinants of health, housing, and transportation, nutrition, and how some key investments there can help save mom's lives,” said Underwood. “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. 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.”

“We're trying to fill the gaps,” Underwood continued. “We're looking at the data and the evidence, trying to make sure that we are data-driven policymakers but also in a way that's inclusive and bi-partisan so that we can save lives.”

Telehealth Must Address Socioeconomic Inequalities to Be Successful

Telehealth allows patients to see a doctor without having to leave their homes. These virtual visits utilize various tools and devices to access off-site care. These visits can even benefit individuals seeking prenatal care.

“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.”

“I'm very excited about telehealth,” said Dr. Juliet M. Nevins, clinical solution medical director at Aetna. “I certainly see it as an access point.”

Dr. Nevins also noted the disproportionate socio-economic toll telehealth may require to work properly.

“We also have to be mindful that when we're talking about inequities and disparities … therein lies challenges … in terms of equipment and health literacy, [such as] how to use technology and the intersectionality between those two,” explained Dr. Nevins.

Moms Must Be Given a Voice Throughout Their Care

The hospital system can be overwhelming for some individuals who may find themselves lost or unheard, especially patients in post- and prenatal care. It’s important to give “them the space to be heard,” said Trashaun Powell of the Racial Disparity Task Force at the Preeclampsia Foundation.

“I think a lot of hospitals right now [are talking about] the maternal health disparities challenge [and] the maternal health crisis,” explained Powell. “What we want to also look at is: where is the survivor's perspective?”

Dr. Nevins emphasized the importance of having a voice that can speak for mothers that understand their unique situation and the care they need.

“We have the tools... to support mothers by covering doulas,” said Dr. Nevins. “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.”


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