Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) will introduce a bill on Wednesday to address the high rate of maternal mortality in the U.S., particularly among black women, by expanding access to health care for pregnant women and new mothers.
Pressley’s bill, which is a companion to a similar Senate bill led by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), would extend Medicaid coverage for women for up to a year after giving birth, rather than current limits of up to 60 days under the Social Security Act.
The legislation ― called Maximizing Outcomes for Moms through Medicaid Improvement and Enhancement of Services, or the MOMMIES Act ― would also give pregnant and postpartum women full Medicaid coverage rather than limit it to pregnancy-related services.
The legislation aims to improve maternal health outcomes and specifically “close disparities that put mothers and kids of color at risk,” according to a news release from Booker’s office.
The U.S. has the worst maternal mortality rate among all developed countries. And the risk of pregnancy-related deaths is three to four times higher for black women than for white women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The lived experiences of Black women demonstrate how racism and trauma directly impacts the health and wellbeing of marginalized communities for generations,” Pressley, who made history in November as her state’s first black congresswoman, said in a release.
The legislation would also require an independent advisory board to Congress to issue a report on Medicaid’s coverage of doula care under its state programs, with recommendations on how to increase access to doulas. Studies have shown that the use of doulas ― or a trained person on-hand before and during a woman’s labor to provide emotional support and advocacy ― can improve health outcomes for women, particularly for those from marginalized groups.
“Maternal justice is about ensuring that every mom-to-be is listened to and treated with dignity and respect during and after childbirth,” Pressley added.
Booker first introduced the bill in the Senate last year and then reintroduced it on Tuesday, his staff said. His Senate bill was co-sponsored fellow 2020 presidential contenders Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
“We simply cannot continue to accept this alarming status quo,” Booker said in a news release. “By expanding Medicaid coverage for pregnant women, we can begin to stem the rising tide of maternal mortality and close the egregious racial gaps that exist in maternal and infant health outcomes.”
Most pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are fully preventable — and they can happen up to a year after a woman gives birth, according to a recent CDC report. Of the about 700 women who die from pregnancy and childbirth causes every year in the U.S., 31% die during pregnancy, 36% during childbirth or in the first week postpartum and 33% at some point in the first year after they give birth.
The issue of maternal mortality, and specifically of black women facing disproportionately high rates of pregnancy-related complications and death, has begun to gain wider attention among lawmakers and the public in recent years. The issue has also gained recent exposure from tennis star Serena Williams and singer Beyoncé, who have both publicly discussed the difficulties and complications they faced in childbirth.
Pressley was one of several lawmakers who founded the Black Maternal Health Caucus in Congress last month, led by Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.). The group aims to “raise awareness within Congress to establish Black maternal health as a national priority.”
Last year, Harris introduced a bill aimed at reducing racial biases in maternal health care, called the Maternal CARE Act, which would create incentives for medical schools to educate students about racial bias in maternal health care so that it can be prevented.
And last month at the “She the People” forum for presidential candidates, Warren laid out a plan to have medical providers’ funding be contingent on the quality of care they give to mothers, and specifically to black moms.
“The best studies that I’ve seen put it down to just one thing: prejudice,” Warren said at the event. “Doctors and nurses don’t hear African American women’s medical issues the same way as they hear the same things from white women.”