Addressing Disparities in Maternal Mortality

We must begin to address the multifaceted issue of racial disparities in maternal mortality for American women. The United States is one of 13 countries globally, where the rate of maternal mortality is actually worse now than it was 25 years ago. According to the CDC,1 an estimated 700 to 900 maternal deaths occur in the United States annually, and 3 out 5 of these deaths were preventable if standards of care had been followed.

When looking at these deaths disaggregated by race, African American women are three to four times more likely to die from childbirth than non-Hispanic, white women, and socioeconomic status, education and other factors do not protect against this disparity. There are many factors that contribute to the complexity of this issue, but access to high-quality health care systems and evidence-based care are central to the solution.

In the South, Georgia and Louisiana rank as the states with the highest number2 of maternal deaths in the country. In Georgia, Black women experienced 60 percent of pregnancy-related deaths3 whereas in Louisiana, that number rose to 68 percent.4

In order to directly address these issues, the federal government should pass legislation like the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies Act5 and other legislation that strengthens maternal health care by: extending pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage for up to a year following delivery, developing networks of maternal providers to serve the needs in rural communities and addressing disparate treatment by healthcare professionals by funding culturally competent and responsive training to mitigate implicit bias in treatment.

States should establish Maternal Mortality Review Boards, which can be funded by grants established through the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act6 of 2018, to collect and analyze standardized data on maternal death, investigate every maternal death and develop uniform strategies and guidelines to prevent future pregnancy-related deaths by ensuring that the standards of care are met.