Issue Update: America’s Rising Maternal Mortality Rate

Everyday we hear about advances in the medical field and procedures aimed at making people healthier. So why is the United States one of only 13 developed countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality is worse today than it was 25 years ago?

Each year an estimated 700 to 900 women across the country die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. What is even more startling is that black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes. Also, black infants in the U.S. are more than twice as likely to die compared to white infants.

New Report Suggests Maternal Mortalities Are Preventable

The disturbing news doesn’t end there. A recent report, “Building U.S. Capacity to Review and Prevent Maternal Deaths” estimated that more than 60 percent of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable. So why weren’t they? The answer lies in access to health coverage.

The report revealed that nearly 50 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths were caused by:

  • Hemorrhage
  • Cardiovascular & coronary conditions
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Infection

The report also found that the leading causes of death for black women included preeclampsia, eclampsia, and embolism while mental conditions were among the leading underlying causes of death among white women.

Why are we failing women? Numbers like those shouldn’t exist in the 21st century.

Mind-blowing statistics like these is what has prompted more than 30 U.S. congressional members to sign letters to pressure 15 major health insurers for answers regarding pregnancy and postpartum health care coverage.

The effort led by Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Representative Robin Kelly asks health insurance companies to describe the services offered to pregnant and postpartum women.

Companies are also asked to answer the following questions:

  • What steps are you taking to improve maternal and infant health outcomes, and reduce racial disparities?
  • Prior to the Affordable Care Act, did your company offer a full range of services to cover mothers and babies?
  • What clinical guidelines does your company use to guide coverage determinations, prior authorization policies, first-fail or step therapy protocols, and other medical management strategies?
  • How is your insurance company working to educate mothers and their partners about the warning signs of pregnancy-related complications?
  • Do your insurance policies cover doulas, or can you recommend ways to expand these services for women?
  • How will your company better train network providers about implicit racial bias and stigma in healthcare?
  • What actions has your insurance company taken to improve access to contraception for all women?
  • What steps can Congress take to better assist insurance companies to improve maternal and infant health outcomes and to reduce racial disparities?

Members of Congress gave each health insurance company until August 9, 2018, to reply. As of this writing, there is no information as to how many health insurance companies have actually replied.

Representative Kelly has also recently introduced a bill aimed at lowering the number of pregnancy-related deaths. The new initiative is called the Mothers and Offspring Maternal Mortality Awareness (MOMMA) Act. It aims to extend the amount of time a woman can stay on Medicaid after giving birth to one year. Medicaid pays for half of all births in the United States. Right now women are allowed to stay on Medicaid for 60 days after giving birth. Currently, when those 60 days are up many women go uninsured.

Besides expanding Medicaid coverage the bill also seeks to get more information related to pregnancy-related deaths. Right now that reporting is spotty at best. Better reporting would provide more thorough information so everyone can better understand why these deaths are happening and start taking action to prevent them.

The bill also takes other steps to encourage healthcare facilities to develop better procedures when women need emergency obstetric care. It also calls for a committee to look at how to better save lives and to share those practices.

Other Initiatives Aimed at Bringing Attention to the Cause

Lawmakers are not the only ones looking to bring attention to the issue of pregnancy-related deaths. The cause is getting attention from the “What to Expect” company that recently teamed up with International Medical Corps to support healthy pregnancies on the fourth annual #BumpDay on July 25th. The organization works to give the most vulnerable women in the world access to prenatal care to have safe and healthy pregnancies.

The two groups are partnering for the “What to Expect Healthy Birth Project” that pledges to deliver 1 million more healthy moms and their babies over the next five years.

Women were encouraged to post a picture of their “bump” with the #BumpDay along with words of support. The goal is to bring attention to the growing need for better maternal care in the U.S. and around the world. Through donations to the “Healthy Birth Project,” the International Medical Corps can support schools for midwives as well as prenatal clinics to make sure health professionals have the equipment they need to provide obstetric and newborn emergency care.

If you’re looking to support the cause you can always make a donation. Even the smallest amount can make a difference. Besides donating you can help support the recent legislation by writing a letter to your state’s members of Congress to encourage them to get behind the initiative to end America’s rising mortality rate.

Together we can all make a difference and help to reduce the current alarming statistics associated with maternal care in the United States. There’s no reason why such a developed country should have such poor care for pregnant women. We should be an example of what better maternal healthcare looks like, not what it shouldn’t look like.



Congresswoman Robin Kelly

Senator Dick Durbin

World Health Organization


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