Other Views: Herrera Beutler Takes on Maternal Mortality

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Maternal health care in the United States is frankly a disgrace, and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler deserves credit for keeping a legislative spotlight shining on the issue.

According to the Maternal Health Task Force at Harvard Chan School, the maternal mortality rate in the United States is 17 deaths per 100,000 births, or about 700 to 900 moms who die due to pregnancy or birth-related complications. The American Journal of Managed Care, or AJMC, says two-thirds of these deaths are preventable. (In Washington, the rate is 13.8 deaths per 100,000 births. California is the lowest at 4 deaths per 100,000, while Louisiana is the highest at 58.1, according to World Population Review.)

AJMC further reports that "among 11 developed countries, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate, a relative undersupply of maternity care providers, and is the only country not to guarantee access to provider home visits or paid parental leave in the postpartum period."

What makes the United States' sorry status even more shameful is that compared with other wealthy nations, it spends the highest percentage of its gross domestic product on health care, according to AJMC.

Herrera Beutler has been in the forefront in Congress in working to improve care for expectant and new mothers, as well as their babies.

In September, the House passed the Helping Medicaid Offer Maternity Services, or MOMS, Act that was co-sponsored by the Battle Ground Republican. The bill gives states the ability to extend Medicaid coverage for the entire one-year postpartum period. The cut-off for postpartum care had been 60 days.

In June, the House approved another Herrera Beutler bill reauthorizing federal efforts that help states improve and expand newborn screening programs, support newborn screening education for parents and providers, and ensure laboratory quality and surveillance.

An important step in addressing maternal mortality is improving access to care, particularly increasing the number and availability of midwives. Herrera Beutler is working on this, too. In May, she introduced the Midwives for Maximizing Optimal Maternity Services, or MOMS, Act, which aims to tackle the shortage of maternity care providers by establishing two new funding streams for educating midwives.

According to AJMC, "The role of midwives has been found to be comparable or preferable to physician-led care in terms of mother and baby outcomes and more efficient use of health care resources. WHO (World Health Organization) recommends midwives as an evidence-based approach to reducing maternal mortality."

Along with the MOMS Act, Herrera Beutler also introduced the BABIES Act, for Birth Access Benefiting Improved Essential Facility Services. The BABIES Act aims to expand access to free-standing birth centers for Medicaid recipients. Such centers, Herrera Beutler noted in a press release when the bills were introduced, using a "midwifery model of care, resulted in lower rates of preterm birth, lower rates of low birth weight, lower rates of C-section, and cost savings of $2,000 per mother-infant pair."

For a country that ostensibly reveres mothers, maternal mortality rates in the U.S. should be a clarion call to action. Let us hope Herrera Beutler's colleagues will share her concern and support her efforts to deliver quality care to all expectant and new mothers.

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