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Amnesty International Urges Congress to Turn Attention to Needed Reforms on Maternal and Childbirth Care
Organization Says Passage of Health Insurance Reforms Should Spur Action to Ensure That Every Birth is Safe for Pregnant Women
NEW YORK - March 22 - Now that health insurance reform legislation has passed, President Obama and Congress must urgently turn their attention to ensuring quality maternal care for every American woman to reduce rising deaths and complications during pregnancy and childbirth, Amnesty International said today.
"Maternal care has been virtually ignored in the debate on health care reform," said Larry Cox, executive director, Amnesty International USA. "It's scandalous and disgraceful that the United States has failed to provide access to quality care to protect all women giving birth. Now is the time for the United States to act to reduce the rate of deaths and complications."
The human rights organization, in its latest report, "Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA," concluded that health reform legislation will not solve the barriers and deficiencies that contribute to American women having a higher risk of dying of pregnancy-related complications than women in 40 other countries, including virtually all industrialized countries
Amnesty International is calling on President Obama and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to develop a robust and systematic approach to maternal care that will begin to reduce the rates of death and injury. Every day, 2 to 3 women die from pregnancy-related complications and nearly one-third of pregnant women experience complications that adversely affect their health, including 34,000 "near misses" where women nearly die.
The centerpiece of the organization's campaign is creation of an Office of Maternal Health in HHS to address disparities and deficiencies in maternal care.
These include the lack of protocols to prevent and respond to the leading complications that cause pregnancy-related deaths, shortages of health care professionals, especially in medically underserved rural areas and inner cities, and vigorous enforcement of federal discrimination laws, among others. The report found glaring gaps in care especially among women of color, immigrants, women living in poverty, Native Americans and women who speak little or no English. For example, black women are nearly four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women are. There has been no improvement in the rate of maternal deaths for more than 20 years in the United States,
Cox praised elements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act while noting that the United States still has a long way to go toward recognizing and treating health as a human right.
Cox said: "Aspects of the legislation are historic steps forward for the United States, ushering in vitally needed measures to expand Medicaid, increase funding for community health centers and curb some of the more egregious practices of the insurance industry. But the bill falls short of guaranteeing universal care. According to government projections, more than 20 million people will continue to be uninsuredand many immigrants will be categorically excluded from most benefits.
"Deep inequities will remain in the health care system, with care continuing to be rationed by ability to pay. Despite new regulations, the insurance industry not only remains insufficiently accountable, but will also now play an expanded role in health care financing," Cox said.
"Public programs are our best vehicles for making health care completely accessible and accountable, and we applaud Congress for expanding and strengthening Medicaid by raising the income-eligibility ceiling, expanding coverage to those not currently eligible, including adults without children, and increasing reimbursement rates to help ensure that low-income people get the care they need."
Cox added: "Increased support for community health centers will help ensure that all members of our society have access to care, regardless of ability to pay or other factors irrelevant to health needs. They are also crucial sources of prenatal and postnatal care."