The CDC reports that Black women are three to four times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related complication than white women. Black women are also three to four times more likely to suffer from the severe disabilities that result from childbirth than white women. Addressing these racial disparities in the healthcare system will require significant actions to improve the health outcomes for all people.
During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Equality of Opportunity in Action: Addressing Maternal Healthcare Disparities event, co-founder and co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, The Honorable Lauren Underwood, spoke about these healthcare disparities, the important issue of maternal health, and the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act 2021 that focuses on solutions for America’s maternal health crisis.
The Importance of the Issue of Maternal Health and its Impacts
Rep. Underwood, the youngest African American woman to serve in the United States House of Representatives, said the issue of maternal health has been important because she has seen it up close.
“This has been a disparity that has been around my entire lifetime,” Congresswoman Underwood said. “The majority of these deaths are preventable. We know what the solutions are. We’ve just not necessarily seen the political will or prioritization of this population.”
In typical cases, one’s education status would tend to mean that they would receive more care and are less likely to deal with disparities when treated. However, this is not the case for African-Americans – especially African-American mothers during childbirth. Instead, being a Black woman can further amplify these inequalities in regards to the higher infertility rates, the greater stigma surrounding reproductive challenges, and the barriers to accessing fertility care.
“This is not a problem where trickle-down solutions are going to make a difference," said Underwood. "We have to be specific. We have to be targeted. We have to be aggressive if we are going to end this disparity."
The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021
The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 is a comprehensive suite of 12 bills that aim to end the nation’s maternal mortality crisis. Underwood notes that none of the bills they have created are duplicates.
“We’ve had some long-standing bills that are attempting to expand postpartum Medicaid," Underwood said. "That’s not in the Momnibus. What the Momnibus is looking at are issues like social determinants of health, housing and transportation, nutrition, and how some key investments there can help save moms’ lives.”
The bills are based on data and evidence gathered as policy-makers to ensure that the bills they create are inclusive and bipartisan. “We have the ‘Moms Matter Act,’ which [addresses] mental health and substance use disorders. … We have a bill specifically aimed at helping our veteran moms. … We have legislation related to COVID-19.”
Along with the Momnibus bills being put together based on data and evidence, the drafting of these bills was consulted with private sector stakeholders and many other companies who want to see more positive maternal health outcomes.
“It’s really led to the largest and most diverse coalition of endorsing legislation…we have not seen this kind of cross-sector come together before on a healthcare bill like this,” Underwood states.
She mentions collaboration with Blue Cross Blue Shield, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Federation of American Hospitals, and many other healthcare industry leaders to push for postpartum Medicaid coverage expansion. She also notes how these companies can also utilize their own services to address disparities in their communities.
How the Business Community Can Help Improve Health Outcomes
Additionally, the business community has a role to play in maternal health outcomes as well.
“In addition to including the industry partners on the interagency task force, the Momnibus also provides opportunities for the private sector to engage in the development of a perinatal care alternative payment model demonstration project,” Underwood said.
She also points out that there are many other opportunities for employers to lead on the issues outside of the context of the Momnibus. The disparities in the healthcare system are not a simple fight that one can go against alone. These disparities will only change if everyone takes action to fight against them.
“Together, we can take the bold actions that will be required in order to save moms’ lives, these racial and ethnic health disparities, and maternal health outcomes, and achieve true equity and justice for all,” Underwood said.
From the Series