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Racial Disparities in Maternal Health

Big Picture

According to the CDC, Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than White women, with most of the maternal deaths being preventable. Progressives and Conservatives propose different explanations, but the fact remains that racial disparities plague our healthcare system. Both sides should be able to agree that it is important for us to discuss these issues to promote maternal health.


Graphic From: “Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Pregnancy-Related Deaths — United States, 2007–2016.” CDC, 6 Sep. 2019.


Operative Definitions

  1. Mortality amenable: The number of deaths preventable or treatable with timely and effective care.

  2. Maternal mortality ratio: A key performance indicator (KPI) for efforts to improve the health and safety of mothers before, during and after childbirth per country worldwide.


Important Facts and Statistics

  1. About 700 women die each year in the U.S. due to pregnancy or its complications. American Indian/Alaska Native and Black women are two to three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women.

  2. In states with the lowest PRMR (Pregnancy-Related Mortality Ratios), the PRMR for Black women was about three times as high as the PRMR for White women.

  3. Black mothers are more likely to endure conditions like preeclampsia, postpartum hemorrhage and blood clots, as well as other pregnancy-related complications.


Five-Point Plan

(1) Expand postpartum Medicaid benefits. 

Currently, Medicaid maternal benefits last for 60 days postpartum. This is required under federal law. However, maternal health advocates highlight that the majority of maternal deaths happen within the first year postpartum. Expanding the postpartum benefits of Medicaid would not only provide a general support system for mothers postpartum but also give mothers increased access to vital healthcare services that they can utilize to maximize their postpartum experience.


(2) Implement protected parental leave. 

According to Johns Hopkins public health experts, “Protected paid parental leave is essential for healthy moms, babies and communities—and that Black women are less likely to have access to paid leave through their jobs.” Parental leave allows mothers to recover physically and emotionally from the stress of childbirth. Mothers who return to work after a longer leave are likelier to exhibit reduced stress levels. Currently, the US lacks a policy that protects this type of necessary parental leave, without protected leave the majority of marginalized communities will have to go to work far too soon postpartum. This could lead to negative physical and mental effects. Implementing a national policy would allow all mothers to get adequate and necessary leave postpartum and would prioritize their health.


(3) Use methods of telehealthcare. 

One way experts have proposed addressing racial disparities in maternal healthcare access and treatment is to implement more telehealth systems for healthcare providers to connect with patients. A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic showed that when telehealth was implemented, “postpartum care significantly reduced racial disparities in postpartum visit attendance." Using new digital advancements in healthcare like telehealth capabilities may be a key player in creating equitable and accessible healthcare for mothers.


(4) Address racial disparities in healthcare education. 

Healthcare education reform can help address disparities by raising awareness among healthcare professionals about potential racial bias and cultural competency. This is important to create a more inclusive environment where Black women can feel heard by their providers. Whether it starts within medical schools, current clinical practices or any higher education system, racial bias must be a topic implemented into these major systems to protect the livelihood and rights of Black women and the well-being of their communities.


(5) Foster community-based organizations. 

Community-based organizations that advocate for maternal health awareness have begun important conversations about what needs to change to protect Black women and families. These organizations promote awareness and collaborate with healthcare professionals and policymakers to identify the root causes of racial disparities and possible solutions to address them. They create programs and initiatives that work to create vital access to maternal health services and education on important maternal health issues.


Why This Initiative Is Important

Protecting Black maternal health and the maternal health of other marginalized communities is extremely important to work toward respecting the rights of all and preserving the integrity of our healthcare system. Every person looking to start a family should be able to trust our system to provide quality care and best ensure their safety and well-being. We should strive to create more awareness of the racial disparities in maternal healthcare by making sure our systems are properly equipped with the means to provide safe, effective and equitable healthcare for families in all communities.


Economic Impact

When it comes to estimated economic impact, the projected cost is difficult to estimate, especially in the early stages of policy implementation. It may be a great economic cost, however, it is important to understand the economic impact of lacking protective policy when it comes to maternal healthcare. According to a report called “The High Costs of Maternal Morbidity Show Why We Need Greater Investment in Maternal Health,” “the projected cost of maternal morbidity for all births in 2019, from conception through age five, is $32.3 billion.” Though it may cost to make progress, the issues create a more weighty negative impact. Policymakers must do what they can to implement policies that will protect the lives of mothers from marginalized communities.


Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Sources

“Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Pregnancy-Related Deaths - United States, 2007–2016.” CDC, 6 Sep. 2019, www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternal-mortality/disparities-pregnancy-related-deaths/infographic.html

Kumar, Natasha R, et al. “Assessing the Impact of Telehealth Implementation on Postpartum Outcomes for BlackBirthing People.” American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology MFM, Feb. 2023,www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9726646/.

“New Report: Pregnancy and Delivery Complications Cost the United States Billions in Health Care Expenses, Lost Productivity, and Social Support Services.” Commonwealth Fund, 12 Nov. 2021, www.commonwealthfund.org/press-release/2021/new-report-pregnancy-and-delivery-complications.

“Solving the Black Maternal Health Crisis.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, publichealth.jhu.edu/2023/solving-the-black-maternal-health-crisis. Accessed 13 July 2023.

“Working Together to Reduce Black Maternal Mortality.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 Apr. 2023, www.cdc.gov/healthequity/features/maternal-mortality/index.html

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