House bill aims to save moms from dying during childbirth
A House bill introduced Wednesday would expand the amount of time that new moms could remain on Medicaid, in an effort to reduce the number of pregnancy or childbirth-related deaths.
"Too many mothers have died already," said Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., who introduced the legislation. "Too many kids are growing up without a mother. Too many families are living a nightmare that doesn't end."
The bill is being introduced in the face of federal data showing that maternal mortality is rising. Because lawmakers are not certain what is contributing to the increase, the bill introduced Wednesday, the Mothers and Offspring Maternal Mortality Awareness, or MOMMA, Act also would allow for better reporting.
"Right now our first real challenge is that we know the rates are climbing but we don't have quality, uniform data to help us make better informed decisions on next steps," said Kelly, who is chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus' Health Braintrust.
The Medicaid provision, a government-funded program that offers medical care for pregnant women, would be expanded to a year after birth. Half of births in the U.S. are covered by Medicaid, and after delivery women are allowed to stay on the program for 60 days, and after that many women go uninsured.
The legislation takes other steps to address the issue, including encouraging healthcare facilities to develop better protocols when women need emergency obstetric care and setting up a committee to examine and share which practices are best to save lives.
Though many questions remain about the causes and risks associated with maternal deaths, experts already know that black women in the U.S. are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy or birth-related complications. Elizabeth Dawes Gay, steering committee chairwoman of the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, said racism and other structural barriers played a role and pointed to a provision in the MOMMA Act that provides training for medical providers who care for black women and their infants.
More than 700 women in the U.S. die within a year after pregnancy, and at least half of the deaths are preventable, said Dr. Hal Lawrence, executive vice president and CEO of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Overall, the U.S. maternal mortality rate is more dire than other developed nations. The rate of maternal mortality is five times higher in the U.S. than it is in England, for instance.
"Shame on us that we're not leading," Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said at the press conference, sharing the difficult circumstances that surrounded her own birth during the segregation era, in which doctors used forceps to deliver her.
Interest in the issue is bipartisan. Kelly said her bill was intended to go "hand in hand" with the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act, introduced by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.
Yvette Cravins, chief of staff for Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., shared her childbirth story as well. More than a week after giving birth, she told doctors at the emergency department that she was in pain, but they told her to return home, giving her treatment for pain and telling her that she was just tired. The next time she returned to the ER she was on a stretcher, having suffered from a stroke.
"I was healthy, young, educated, married, insured and received excellent prenatal care," she said. "All of the boxes were checked, and yet I still suffered from the effects of trauma after childbirth."
It took her two years to recover from the stroke, and after the difficulty of her second birth she was told that she shouldn't have children again or that she should have an abortion. Instead, she found another doctor who helped put her on a medical plan that allowed her to have a successful birth.
"Once you find out the origin, they can craft care for you going through it," she said. "They took the time to do that, to answer my questions ... the physicians are out there, you just have to find them."