By Stacy M. Brown
In 2022, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra implemented actions to improve maternal health and reduce health disparities, and this year, the Biden-Harris Administration has continued to champion policies to improve maternal health and equity.
Vice President Kamala Harris convened a meeting with Becerra and other Cabinet leaders amplifying a whole-of-government approach to reducing maternal mortality and morbidity.
On Monday, April 10, President Biden issued another proclamation to begin Black Maternal Health Week.
The president called the week a reminder that so many families experience pain, neglect, and loss during what should be a joyous occasion.
Biden called it urgent that all act.
“Black women in America are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women,” the president remarked.
“This is on top of the fact that women in America are dying at a higher rate from pregnancy-related causes than in any other developed nation.”
He insisted that tackling the crisis begins with understanding how institutional racism drives these high maternal mortality rates.
Studies show that Black women are often dismissed or ignored in hospitals and other health care settings, even as they suffer from severe injuries and pregnancy complications and ask for help, the president reminded.
He said systemic inequities are also to blame.
“When mothers do not have access to safe and stable housing before and after childbirth, they are at greater risk of falling ill,” Biden exclaimed.
“When women face barriers traveling to the hospital for prenatal and postpartum checkups, they are less likely to remain healthy. Air pollution, water pollution, and lead pipes can have dangerous consequences for pregnant women and newborns. And when families cannot afford nutritious foods, they face worse health outcomes.”
He claimed his administration has penned the blueprint for addressing the maternal health crisis, an agenda that lays out specific actions the federal government would take to improve maternal health and secured funding from Congress to help implement it.
“Vice President Kamala Harris has been a leader on the issue of maternal mortality for years and led the charge to improve maternal health outcomes, including by issuing a call to action to address disparities in maternal care,” Biden stated.
“She continues to elevate the issue nationally, convening State legislators, medical professionals, and others so all mothers can access the care they need before, during, and after childbirth.”
The president continued:
“Additionally, my American Rescue Plan gave States the option to provide a full year of postpartum coverage to Medicaid beneficiaries — up from just 60 days of coverage.
“As a result, my Administration has approved requests from 30 States and Washington, D.C. to provide women with Medicaid coverage with a full year of postpartum coverage, and we have made this option permanent for every State that extends Medicaid postpartum coverage.
“My Administration has helped facilitate Medicaid expansion in four States since I took office, and I continue to call on the Congress to close the Medicaid coverage gap.
“We are also working to expand and diversify the maternal health workforce, helping health care providers hire and train diverse and culturally competent physicians, certified nurse midwives, doulas, and community health workers to support women during pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum care.”
The president’s budget includes $471 million to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity rates, improving access to care in rural communities, expanding implicit bias training for health care providers, and further supporting the perinatal health workforce.
“This week, as we continue our work to make pregnancy and childbirth safe, dignified, and joyful for all, let us remember that health care should be a right and not a privilege,” Biden continued.
“Let us give thanks to the extraordinary maternal health care workforce, which serves its patients and their families every day. And let us join in common cause to end the tragedy of maternal mortality once and for all.”