Scott, Carper, Capito and Nelson Lead Bipartisan Call for Increased Focus on Reducing Maternal Mortality in the U.S.

Maternal mortality a significant issue in South Carolina, Senators urge HHS, CMS to address racial disparities and hospital preparedness

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tim Scott (R-SC), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) are leading a bipartisan effort calling for an increased focus on reducing maternal mortality in the United States and improving health outcomes for all mothers and children. In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma, 14 Republican and Democratic senators requested that the Department and Agency prioritize developing strategies to reduce maternal mortality rates, including for pregnant women and mothers enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

South Carolina’s maternal mortality rate is specifically higher than the national average, with 26.5 deaths for 100,000 live births as opposed to 20.7 nationwide. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Palmetto State’s maternal mortality rate is the eighth highest in the country. The Centers For Disease Control also found that between 2011 and 2015, the maternal mortality rate for black women was significantly higher, with a gap of more than 40 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Nationally, from 2000 to 2014, the rate of maternal mortality, defined as the death of a woman while pregnant or during the one-year period following the date of the end of pregnancy, increased by 26 percent. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States ranks 30 of 31 in maternal mortality among developed nations. Research shows that roughly 60 percent of maternal deaths in the United States could have prevented with improved patient care and education, standardized protocols and timely intervention.

The senators highlighted the racial and ethnic disparities in maternal and infant health in the United States. For instance, African-American women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as compared to other women in the United States. American Indian and Alaskan Native women also fare worse than white women with approximately twice as many pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births.

The senators continued, “Research indicates that numerous factors may contribute to these glaring health disparities, including barriers to accessing necessary prenatal and postnatal care, a growing prevalence of chronic conditions, maternal stress, inadequate training for health care providers, racial bias, and social determinants of health. We therefore also ask that you review existing data and provide us with recommendations about what can be done at the federal, state, and local levels to reduce mortality and improve health outcomes for all mothers and their children, regardless of their racial and ethnic background, income level, or educational attainment.”

The bipartisan lawmakers also called attention to effective policies that some hospitals have developed to better prepare for pregnancy-related complications that could serve as a model for hospitals nationwide.

The senators wrote, “Although some states have taken significant steps to overcome training, education, and system barriers to reducing maternal mortality, not all hospitals and birth centers have implemented common protocols and comprehensive quality measures to help ensure safe labor and delivery, prenatal and postnatal care. Where protocols exist, they may not be integrated into health care delivery systems and hospitals; systems of accountability and support for patients and clinicians are often lacking.”

Joining Senators Scott, Carper, Capito and Nelson were Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.).

The text of the letter can be found here.