*Vice President Kamala Harris, a long-time champion of tackling the Black maternal health crisis in the United States, brought that focus to the White House on Wednesday to convene the first-ever Cabinet meeting to specifically address maternal health.
The meeting comes during the fifth annual Black Maternal Health Week; which was created to bring national attention to the alarming maternal mortality rate among Black women and birthing persons. Harris described the meeting as a follow-up to a number of initiatives from the administration, including expanding postpartum coverage and creating a “birthing friendly” designation for hospitals.
- Black Maternal Health Week is every April 11-17th. Vice President Harris was the first Senator to introduce the Black Maternal Health Week resolution in 2018, and the first Vice President to convene events in the White House.
- Harris announced postpartum Medicaid coverage will soon be extended from 2 months to 12 months by 11 additional states and D.C., for a total of 15 states.
- Harris announced millions in additional funding for improving maternal health outcomes and the creation of the “Birthing-friendly” designation for hospitals and providers.
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According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are three times more likely to die from childbirth than white women. The Black maternal mortality rate rose by a whopping 25% from 2019 to 2020. The disparities persist across socioeconomic and education levels and are driven by a number of factors.
Harris characterized the maternal health issue as “not just about health care” but about “treating a woman as a whole human being”. It is why she said she brought together cabinet members like HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, OMB Director Shalanda Young, CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure and more to address a wide range of issues she believes will have a “generational impact”.
On the heels of Vice President Harris’ December 2021 Maternal Health Day of Action, 15 states requested an expansion of their postpartum coverage as authorized by the American Rescue Plan. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has already approved Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Virginia, and is working with 11 additional states and the District of Columbia to extend Medicaid and CHIP coverage from 2 months postpartum to 12 months after pregnancy. Medicaid covers 40% of births so if all states were to adopt the extended coverage, then nearly 720,000 would benefit.
Improving provider care is another important way to reduce the Black maternal mortality rate. To that end, Harris provided an update on the new “Birthing-Friendly” designation for hospitals and providers proposed by CMS. She described it as a “proactively look to how well the health care delivery system is doing” on improving maternal health outcomes.
Starting in the fall, hospitals and providers will be awarded a “Birthing-friendly” designation based on their participation in implementing best practices and participating in quality improvement collaboratives that improve the quality, safety, and equity of health care for pregnant and post-partum patients. This designation will help expectant mothers make more informed decisions on how to choose the best provider for their prenatal and post-partum care.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has become an increasingly larger method of delivering care. The administration announced that HHS will release a new Maternal Health Best Practice Guide to Maternal Health Best Practices on how providers can incorporate telehealth for prenatal and postpartum care, and monitoring within high-risk pregnancies. Telehealthcare can help reduce the barriers to accessing services like to postpartum depression screening and treatment and lactation consulting and more.
The Biden-Harris administration also announced millions in new funding to support maternal health outcomes. Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Programs will receive $16 million in new funding. The State Maternal Health Innovation and Implementation (State MHI) Program will receive $9 million in new funding. Previously, Harris announced $4.5 million for an investment in training, hiring, and certifying doulas; and $150 million pledged funds from more than 20 companies and nonprofits to tackle the maternal health crisis.
As studies have shown, pregnancy-related deaths are largely preventable; which is why actions being taken by the Biden-Harris administration are critical. Between raising awareness of the Black maternal health crisis through President Joe Biden’s Presidential Proclamation to mark Black Maternal Health Week; the White House investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the President’s budget to improve maternal health outcomes; and Vice President Harris’ galvanization of Cabinet officials and public entities, the administration is taking a comprehensive approach to closing the racial maternal mortality gap for Black women and improving maternal health for all women.
Reecie Colbert is the founder of BlackWomenViews Media. She is renowned for her unique mix of bold, intelligent, and unfiltered commentary. Colbert is a political and culture commentator appearing weekly on the Roland Martin Unfiltered Show and the Clay Cane Show on SiriusXM radio.