It’s about time America started prioritizing Black women’s health. The racial disparities in maternal mortality outcomes have been a major issue for years but have only recently become a topic of discussion after Serena Williams opened up about her potentially fatal childbirth. Politicians like Sen. Elizabeth Warren have opened up about their plans to address the crisis that disproportionately impacts Black women. But not all of the ideas have seemed sustainable or even very practical. Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Ayanna Pressley introduced legislation this week that could, in fact, make a difference. The legislation would expand Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and new mothers.
According to reports, the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, which disproportionately impacts Black women. It’s hard to wrap our heads around the fact that between 700 and 900 women die from pregnancy or childbirth every single day but the lack of healthcare access in this country definitely plays a major factor. What’s even more mind-blogging is the fact that most of these deaths can be prevented with proper healthcare and treatment. According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), three-in-five pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are preventable.
While I’m sure Elizabeth Warren’s intentions behind her initiatives are good, her suggestion of a financial bonus for hospitals that works to improve health outcomes for new Black mothers probably wouldn’t work. There are a lot of hospitals who hands down do not have the funds or the resources to address this problem “head-on” like she said and make it a first priority. However, making sure pregnant women and new mothers have affordable healthcare could actually trigger some substantial change.
“Our bill takes on an important and meaningful step towards addressing the alarming statistics by extending and enhancing the care pregnant women receive under Medicaid,” Booker told 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 Medical Improvement and Enhancement of Services, or The MOMMIES Act, actually consists of two bills. There’s Pressley’s legislation and a companion bill from Sen.Cory Booker. It extends coverage for new moms from 60 days after childbirth (which is the current standard) to an entire full year of coverage. And it doesn’t just cover pregnancy care either but also offers healthcare access to new mothers post-pregnancy, which is crucial especially since of these maternal deaths happen sometimes weeks or even months after giving birth. But wait, because there’s more. It would also increase women’s access to primary care and women’s health providers while also including increased access to community doula and midwife care. This is major y’all and perfect timing too considering they are introducing this just days before Mother’s Day.
“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 press release. “The 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.”
The truth is that the maternal mortality rate speaks to how racism and racial trauma directly impact marginalized communities and their health — Black women especially. This is proven just by the fact that Black mothers are dying at childbirth regardless of their economic status. Serena Williams and Beyonce are some of the most powerful and successful Black women in America and both had potentially fatal labors. That speaks volumes.
It’s encouraging to see folks finally approaching this with bigger-picture solutions because at the end of the day, Black mothers are dying out here and at absurd rates and it’s about time something is finally done about it.