A group of congressional Democrats on Wednesday unveiled legislation that aims to tackle the nation's maternal mortality crisis—which disproportionately affects black and Native American women—by promoting community-based, holistic healthcare for pregnant women and new moms.
"Maternal justice is about ensuring that every mom-to-be is listened to and treated with dignity and respect during and after childbirth."
—Rep. Ayanna Pressley
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-Mass.), the lead sponsors, introduced the bill just a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an "absolutely devastating" report that revealed the country's maternal mortality rate is rising, most of those deaths are preventable, and black and Native American women are three times more likely than their white peers to die of pregnancy-related causes.
"It is unacceptable that the Unites States, the wealthiest country on Earth, has the highest maternal mortality rate [of] any developed nation in the world," Pressley said in a series of tweets. The congresswoman, a founding member of the new Black Maternal Health Caucus, called the racial disparities in maternal deaths "unconscionable."
It is unconscionable that in 2019, black women are more than twice as likely as women of other races to die from pregnancy complications. Proud to introduce the #HealthyMOMMIES Act which promotes community based #doula services to end these disparities. https://t.co/Mv8ggRFIUl
— Rep Ayanna Pressley (@RepPressley) May 8, 2019
The Healthy MOMMIES Act—short for Maximizing Outcomes for Moms through Medicaid Improvement and Enhancement of Services—features several provisions designed to reverse the rising rate of maternal deaths by expanding and improving healthcare coverage.
Specifically, as a fact sheet (pdf) from Pressley's office outlined, the bill intends to curb the national crisis by:
- Expanding Medicaid coverage to include a full range of services to ensure people have access to comprehensive care throughout pregnancy, labor, and postpartum.
- Granting access to primary healthcare providers by extending the Affordable Care Act's primary care bump for Medicaid beneficiaries.
- Establishing a maternity care home model demonstration project.
- Encouraging Medicaid to include access to community-based doula care.
- Studying telemedicine as a mechanism for increasing access to maternity care.
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"Maternal justice is about ensuring that every mom-to-be is listened to and treated with dignity and respect during and after childbirth," Pressley said in a statement. "The Healthy MOMMIES Act would do just that, by promoting a community-based, holistic approach to maternal care that recognizes current disparities in healthcare and critical environmental factors impacting communities."
"We simply cannot continue to accept this alarming status quo—we must do something about it and this bill is an important first step," added Booker, a 2020 presidential candidate.
Booker, in a press call reported by Refinery29, highlighted how the legislation would use Medicaid to serve high-risk women:
Our bill takes on an important and meaningful step towards addressing these alarming statistics by extending and enhancing the care pregnant women receive under Medicaid... Medicaid now covers almost half of all births in the United States. It's a powerful tool to use to improve maternal health overall, particularly for women of color, low-income women, and other underserved populations.
Co-sponsors of the Healthy MOMMIES Act include Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Like Booker, Gillibrand and Harris are also running for president. In the House, the bill is backed by Reps. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Alma Adams (D-N.C.), founders and co-chairs of the Black Maternal Health Caucus.
"As a black mother and grandmother, this crisis is deeply personal to me," said Adams. "I co-founded the Black Maternal Health Caucus because black women are dying of preventable pregnancy-related complications at an alarming rate."