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Preventing maternal deaths gains support in Congress

With the United States ranked No. 50 globally in maternal deaths, support is growing in Congress for the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2017 (H.R. 1318/S. 1112).

With the United States ranked No. 50 globally in maternal deaths, support is growing in Congress for the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2017 (H.R. 1318/S. 1112).

Among other provisions, the bill authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish a program for which HHS can make grants to states to ensure that each state’s department of health develops a plan for ongoing healthcare provider education to improve the quality of maternal care.

“It is unacceptable that in the United States of America in 2018, women are dying in childbirth in increasing numbers,” Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, told Contemporary OB/GYN. “In a country that claims to value families, this issue has not gotten nearly the attention it deserves.”

As a cosponsor of the Senate bill, Senator Brown noted that the United States lags behind much of the world “on even collecting the data necessary to be able to fight this tragic trend. This bill will start that process.”

In addition, too many Americans are unaware of the growing problem, according to Senator Brown. “The more families that share their stories, and the more journalists who are willing to shine a light on this issue, the better chance we have of making progress in Congress,” he says. “At a time when it often seems like there is not much cooperation across the aisle, valuing families and protecting new mothers is something we should all be able to come together on.” 

House of Representatives cosponsor David “Phil” Roe, MD, a Republican from Tennessee, told Contemporary OB/GYN that as an obstetrician and gynecologist who has delivered nearly 5,000 babies, “I strongly support measures to identify improvements that can reduce our maternal mortality and morbidity rates. The United States has too many preventable maternal deaths and serious injuries related to childbirth. This commonsense legislation is a good first step to better understand the problem.”

Another ob/gyn and cosponsor of the House bill is Roger Marshall, MD, a Republican from Kansas, who formerly practiced at Great Bend Regional Hospital. Due to America’s dismal global ranking, “we need to do better,” he told Contemporary OB/GYN. “This ranking puts the United States alongside many third world countries in healthcare outcomes for American mothers.”

The bill currently under consideration would “establish a grant program that allocates state funds to research on maternal mortality rates and establishes a plan for mitigating the issue,” Dr. Marshall said. “States would be allowed to develop their own specific programs, with a uniform method of data collection under HHS.”

And while Dr. Marshall acknowledged that research shows there are discrepancies in maternal death risk among different ethnicities, “maternal mortality has the potential to affect all women across the spectrum of economic class,” he said. “All pregnant women will benefit from this measure. However, this bill will make sure that the HHS directs states to assess the most at-risk populations first.”

In March 2017, the H.R. bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Health by the Committee on Energy and Commerce, according to Dr. Marshall. “Unfortunately, it is hard to say whether it will pass, much less when,” he said. “Healthcare is a big topic in Washington, DC right now, with lots of interests competing for limited bandwidth. My hope would be that we can focus on measures that have bipartisan support, such as this bill.”

As for obstacles to passage, “Whenever it comes to allocating additional funds, things typically move slowly,” Dr. Marshall said. 

Tell lawmakers how you feel about these efforts to deal with maternal mortality. To find out how to contact your elected federal, state, and local representatives visit www.usa.gov/elected-officials