US Maternal Mortality Rates Light a Fire Under Congress at Last

December 20, 2018 | Crandall & Pera Law
US Maternal Mortality Rates Light a Fire Under Congress at Last

Over the last 18 months, ProPublica and NPR, and USA TODAY, launched in-depth investigations into the causes behind America’s high maternal mortality rates. What they uncovered shocked the country: that the U.S. is the only developed nation whose maternal death rates are on the rise, and that the primary causes of these deaths were complications arising from preeclampsia and post-partum hemorrhage. (You can read our summary and analysis here.)

These numbers are unacceptable. We understand that, sometimes, mothers die during childbirth for inexplicable or tragic reasons. We know, though, that the deaths uncovered by these investigations were largely preventable. That is why we are thrilled to see that Congress is finally moving on H.R. 1318, the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act. ProPublica reports that the House approved the bill unanimously “to help states improve how they track and investigate deaths of expectant and new mothers. The bipartisan bill authorizes $12 million a year in new funds for five years — an unprecedented level of federal support — for states to create review committees tasked with identifying maternal deaths, analyzing the factors that contributed to those deaths and translating the lessons into policy changes.”

We need data to fix the problem

Throughout the country, states have put review panels into place to study the maternal injury and mortality rates, but they vary from state to state – and not every state can afford to fund them appropriately or adequately. HR 1318 ensures that each state gets that funding.

And make no mistake: we need it. Earlier research by ProPublica found that “Data collection on maternal deaths is so flawed and under-funded that the federal government no longer even publishes an official death rate.”

Maternal death rates are finally getting recognition

HR 1318 isn’t the only piece of legislation designed to help pregnant women. The Senate (whose companion bill S.1112 has finally made it on the calendar) just passed the Improving Access to Maternity Care Act with bipartisan support. The Act aims to “help reduce maternity care shortages by identifying areas lacking maternal health professionals to help incentivize providers to practice in these underserved, often rural areas,” and is awaiting a signature from the President in order to be signed into law. States are also strengthening (or creating) review panels on their own.

In Ohio, maternal mortality review panels were established in 2010, but the state has lagged when it comes to actually protecting pregnant women and new mothers. As a result, independent groups and organizations have taken up the mantle themselves to see what can be done. Tara Britton is the director of public policy and advocacy at The Center for Community Solutions. She told Cleveland Scene that the focus for years has been on lowering the infant mortality rate in Ohio, so less work was being done in regard to mothers. Local hospitals are also taking steps to reduce maternal mortality rates.

Kentucky, where maternal mortality rates are a little lower than those in Ohio, also has a review panel – but it might not be as effective or as trustworthy, because “it is run by the private medical association, not the government health department.... [meaning] the profession is in effect policing itself and might not want to recommend changes that could affect doctors,” as Kevin Kavanagh, the doctor who runs Health Watch USA, told USA TODAY. The paper reported the story of one woman whose death was never discovered by the panel, which leads us to wonder if the number of deaths Kentucky reports is actually accurate.

We have much, much more work to do – but the bipartisan support and unanimous passing of HR 1318 is an excellent start. We urge you to call your Senators and ask them to pass the companion bill, S.1112, as soon as possible.

Crandall & Pera Law is a nationally-recognized medical malpractice and personal injury law firm serving clients throughout Ohio and Kentucky. If you or your loved one was injured before, during, or after delivery, we can help. To schedule a free consultation at one of our offices, please call 877.686.8879 or fill out our contact form. If you are too ill or injured to come to us, we can come to you.