This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data on pregnancy-related mortality, further underscoring the urgency to address the U.S. maternal health crisis. This information comes from maternal mortality review committee (MMRC) data from thirty-six states, supported by the CDC’s Enhancing Reviews and Surveillance to Eliminate Maternal Mortality program. Given that over 80 percent of pregnancy-related deaths are in fact preventable, continued legislative inaction is indefensible. This list breaks down the main findings from the new data—and what the policy response must be.
1. The vast majority of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable.
These new data demonstrate that not only are most pregnancy-related deaths preventable—meaning that there was a chance of averting the death by one or more reasonable changes to care or system factors—but also that the percentage of preventable deaths has increased to an astounding 84 percent.
Now more than ever, Congress needs to pursue comprehensive solutions to the maternal health crisis, such as those found in the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act. These policy solutions would invest in community-based organizations, address the social determinants of health, increase the perinatal workforce, and do so much more to end pregnancy-related mortality. The elimination of the maternal health provisions from the Inflation Reduction Act reconciliation package was a blow to moms and birthing people, and Congress must act to pass these provisions before the end of the 117th Congress.
2. Over half of pregnancy-related deaths occur more than a week postpartum.
Although nearly half of pregnancy-related deaths occur during pregnancy or delivery, the majority occur during the postpartum period, more than a week after delivery. Crucially, 30 percent of deaths are suffered during a period from forty-three days to one year postpartum—when many birthing people have already lost their health coverage.
In many states, individuals who receive pregnancy-related Medicaid are only guaranteed coverage for two months postpartum. It is unjust for any new mom or birthing person to lose access to necessary health care at this critical time, but it is especially inexcusable to leave low-income moms and birthing people stranded postpartum. With Black women over three times as likely to experience pregnancy-related mortality as white women and disproportionately likely to have their births covered by Medicaid, it is also a dire matter of racial equity. And while many states have taken up the option to extend Medicaid coverage that was offered as part of the American Rescue Plan, there are still too many moms who have yet to benefit from this policy change. Congress must pass mandatory and permanent extension of Medicaid coverage to a full year postpartum so that every birthing person in every state can access the health care coverage they need for a full year postpartum.
3. Mental health is a leading factor in pregnancy-related deaths.
The number one underlying cause of pregnancy-related death was identified to be mental health conditions, accounting for over 20 percent of such deaths. Too often, mental health disorders go unrecognized and untreated during pregnancy and the postpartum period, especially for Black women who too often lack the care and support needed to address the mental health challenges they may be experiencing.
The Moms Matter Act, part of the Momnibus, is one solution to address this pressing issue. The bill would create grants to support maternal mental health and substance use treatment, and grow and diversify the maternal mental health workforce to ensure that mental health is adequately integrated into pregnancy care. Access to culturally competent mental health care professionals, as well as more generous health insurance coverage, are also critical to adequately address gaps in mental health care for mothers of color.
The House-passed Build Back Better Act demonstrated how to prioritize maternal health, and these new data makes it clear that Congress must re-center the health of pregnant and postpartum people. There is still time to permanently extend postpartum coverage and pass the Black Maternal Health Momnibus this Congress—moms and birthing people have waited long enough and, as research consistently shows, the U.S. maternal mortality crisis is worsening.