Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Ayanna Pressley are introducing legislation this week to expand Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and new mothers in an effort to target the nation's crisis of maternal mortality, which disproportionally impacts Black and Indigenous women.
Research has shown the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the industrialized world: Between 700 and 900 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes every year, while around 65,000 nearly die. Most of these deaths could be prevented. In fact, three in five pregnancy-related deaths in the nation are preventable, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released Tuesday.
"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," Booker said in a call with reporters. "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."
The Maximizing Outcomes for Moms through Medicaid Improvement and Enhancement of Services (MOMMIES) Act, which Booker first introduced last year, extends coverage for new mothers from its current standard of 60 days after childbirth to a full year of coverage; offers full Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and new mothers, instead of just covering pregnancy care; increases access to primary health providers and women's health providers; and increases access to doula care.
Black and Indigenous women specifically are three to four times more likely to die before, during, and after childbirth than white women, according to research. "My paternal grandmother — I never had the pleasure and honor of knowing her. She died giving birth to my youngest uncle, Jerome," Pressley said in the call. "It's hard to believe that was the case in 1950. Here we find ourselves, in 2019, and Black women are still disproportionately dying in childbirth or in the days thereafter."
For Black women, the high rates of morbidity and mortality remain even after adjustments for income and education. That's why it is important that the legislation aims to provide high-quality care for everyone, Pressley said. "Even Beyoncé and Serena Williams admitted that they wouldn't be able to survive their pregnancies if it wasn't for the fact that they could afford high-quality care. What does that mean for everyone else?" she said. "The MOMMIES Act uses a health-equity and community-based approach to ensure that vulnerable child-bearing people have access to the high-quality support and care that they need during and after their pregnancy."
The legislation has been endorsed by more than a dozen organizations, including health providers and women's advocates. "In the United States, we currently face the highest risk of illness, complications, and even death due to lack of quality maternal care and, more egregiously, institutional bias and racism rampant in our hospitals and healthcare systems," Elizabeth Dawes Gay and Angela Doyinsola Aina, co-directors of the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "[We support] the MOMMIES Act due to its potential to advance maternal health, rights, and justice for Black mamas and ensure their ability to thrive before, during, and after pregnancy. We applaud Sen. Booker and Rep. Pressley for taking bold action on behalf of all Black mothers. We urge Congress to support and pass this important bill."
The issues of maternal morbidity and mortality have been brought to the forefront because of the tireless work of activists, such as the members of the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, but also because of women in positions of power such as Serena Williams speaking up. Last year, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris introduced legislation with the intent of targeting hospital negligence and fixing the racial disparity in care. The bills, called Modernizing Obstetric Medicine Standards (MOMS) and Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE), complemented each other. Another bill, the Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness (MOMMA’s) Act, was introduced by Rep. Robin Kelly, Sen. Dick Durbin, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth in March. Last month, Reps. Lauren Underwood and Alma Adams launched the Black Maternal Health Caucus in the U.S. House. (Pressley is also one of the founding members.) And at an event in late April, Sen. Elizabeth Warren unveiled a plan to address this crisis as part of her 2020 presidential platform.