By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and New York Attorney General Letitia James unveiled a comprehensive two-part plan to address the national maternal mortality crisis and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes nationwide and in Monroe County.
Attorney General James has been a frontline champion in the effort to improve maternal health care in general and has focused on the urgent need to address the disparities in healthcare that impact Black women.
Specifically, Schumer said that in the upcoming recovery packages he will first fight to secure major investments found in Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021.
Second, he will push to make permanent a state option to improve Medicaid coverage to support pregnant women and new mothers, including instituting yearlong postpartum Medicaid coverage and expanding Medicaid benefits to include doulas and midwives.
“The bottom line is that it is absolutely unacceptable that Black women in New York – and especially right here in Rochester – are at an increased risk of complications, injury and death due to childbirth.”
“It’s troublesome enough that the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to maternal health outcomes, but right here in Rochester, it’s far worse than national statistics indicate,” said Senator Schumer.
“This maternal health crisis is only further exasperated for expectant woman of color in New York, and even worse for Monroe County mothers of color, which is why I’m saying enough is enough – it is time to invest in our moms, pass life-saving legislation to vastly improve national maternal health outcomes, support local maternal health organizations, and eliminate the unconscionable racial and ethnic disparities in outcomes that hurt minority women and families right here in Rochester.”
“In America and throughout New York, there remains the indisputable fact that due to poverty, neglect, and racism, Black mothers are dying at rates far exceeding their white counterparts,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James.
“The disparities in access to quality health care services are most heavily felt by the low-income women that need these services to survive.”
“If enacted, the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act would establish equitable access to health care and would give offices like mine a stronger authority to hold discriminatory health care providers accountable.”
“In memory of every Black mother lost to our discriminatory health care system, I urge Congress to pass the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act without haste, and I thank Majority Leader Schumer for championing this bill.”
In 2018, the overall rate of potentially life-threatening complications during or after childbirth (known as severe maternal morbidity) was 2.7% in New York, meaning approximately 6,000 New York women experienced these complications.
Moreover, Black women were 2.3 times more likely to experience such complications.
In 2020, New York exceeded the national average for maternal morbidity and maternal mortality. Even more concerning, in Monroe County the maternal mortality rate is 25.4 deaths/100,000 births which is 45% higher than the national average (17.4 deaths/100,000 births) and 22% higher than the New York State average (20.8 deaths/100,000 births).
A recent report by Rochester’s Common Ground Health entitled The Color of Health also revealed that in the Rochester-Finger Lakes region, life-threatening delivery complications and other serious maternal morbidity illnesses are 51% more frequent among Black women than White women.
Moreover, the report revealed that the black infant mortality rate in Monroe County is more than 3 times the rate for White infants (13.2 per 1,000 live births vs. 4.2 for White); data from Act Rochester also show the Latino/Hispanic infant mortality rate was 9 per 1,000 births from 2016-2018. Furthermore, the region’s premature birth rate is 77% higher for Black mothers (11.3% vs 6.4% for white mothers).
Pointing to these shocking statistics, Schumer outlined his two-part plan to address the maternal health crisis in New York:
First, Schumer said that he will push to include the many critical investments found in the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 in the upcoming recovery packages.
This historic legislation to save moms’ lives, end racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes, and achieve maternal health justice for Black women and all women and birthing people of color.
The Momnibus builds on existing maternal health legislation to comprehensively address the root causes of the maternal health crisis by making critical investments in addressing social, non-health related issues that can lead to maternal deaths, funding community-based organizations doing patient-level work to reduce the risks of maternal mortality, training programs for hospital staff on how to avoid maternal deaths, growing and diversifying the perinatal workforce, and improvements in data collection processes.
The legislation also aims to address the impacts of the COVID pandemic and climate change on maternal and infant health.
Second, Schumer announced his plan to add major new maternal Medicaid benefits. First, he plans to make to make one-year of postpartum Medicaid coverage a permanent option for new mothers.
Schumer passed a temporary, emergency-relief version of this policy in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) he led to passage in the Senate, and now proposes building upon it.
The Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has proven that offering pregnant and postpartum women Medicaid coverage reduces racial disparities in health care access and health outcomes for both mothers and children, which is why Schumer is pushing to permanently extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to up to a year.
Schumer also plans to include Medicaid coverage for doulas and midwives, who have proven to reduce the risk of maternal deaths and complicated pregnancies, particularly in woman experiencing high-risk pregnancies.
In the U.S., mothers are dying at the highest rate in the developed world, a rate that is only rising. The crisis is most severe for Black mothers, who are dying at 3 to 4 times the rate of white mothers.
In Monroe County, both maternal (25.4 per 100,000) and infant (6.8 per 1,000) mortality rates are higher than the New York state maternal (20.8 per 100,000) and infant (4.6 per 1,000) mortality rates.
Compared to the New York State-wide average, Monroe County also has higher rates of preterm births (11.3%) among Black moms and babies and a higher rate of women who report never talking with a health care provider about ways to prepare for a healthy pregnancy than state averages.
Schumer praised the efforts of local Rochester health and advocacy organizations for working to reverse Monroe County’s maternal and infant morbidity rates including Jordan Health, the Healthy Baby Network, Rochester’s Black Nurses Association, and Rochester’s Community Health Improvement Workgroup.
Schumer cited how Rochester’s Health Improvement Workgroup, of which Jordan Health is a participant, has identified the issue of maternal health and racial disparities in maternal health as one of the two focus need areas in the current 2019-2021 Rochester Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA).
Every three years, through a process mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the New York State Department of Health, non-profit hospitals and the health department conduct a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) to determine areas of community health concern.
Rochester’s Health Improvement Workgroup’s focus on “Promot[ing] Healthy Women Infants and Children” has set goals to reduce disparities (racial, ethnic, economic, and geographic) and convened a Maternal Child Health Advisory Group (MCH-AG) with members from 34 Rochester organizations including Jordan Health which is leading the implementation phase of the plan.
Schumer commended Jordan Health and its workers for providing top quality care and being a leader in the fight against health inequalities engendered by racism and income inequality.
Jordan Health is a medical home to over 27,000 Rochester residents, nearly 88% of which are people of color.
Nearly all (97%) of the patients served by Jordan Health live below 200% of poverty and 72% rely on Medicaid for health insurance.
Schumer also praised Rochester’s Healthy Baby Network, a local nonprofit, than studies and works to intervene and reverse the Monroe County region’s Black maternal and infant mortality rates.
The group identified that by having a Doula assigned to work with the mom just prior to birth, and for several months after birth, could significantly avoid and reduce morbidity and mortalities.
In response the Healthy Baby Network recently launched a new program to train people in Rochester to become Doulas. So far their program has graduated 29 new Doulas.
Schumer said the work was a win-win, creating new jobs in the Rochester region while bolstering the local health care network’s capacity to reverse Monroe’s maternal and infant mortality rates.
The senator’s push to institute yearlong postpartum Medicaid coverage and expanding Medicaid benefits to include doulas and midwives’ will help to support the Healthy Baby Network and supercharge these efforts.
Additionally the Momnibus Act creates new funding programs to support community-based organizations like the Healthy Baby Network that are working to improve maternal health outcomes and promote equity.
“At Jordan Health, we see approximately 450 pregnant women every year. We know that between 12 to 14% of them are likely to deliver babies that are low-birth weight. This is well above the Monroe County rate of approximately 8%,” said Dr. Janice Harbin, President and CEO of Jordan Health.
“We applaud Senator Schumer for promoting the Momnibus bill, which will address critical issues in maternal and infant health. The bill recognizes that housing, food access, and transportation are essential to a healthy pregnancy and healthy moms and babies.”
Sherita Bullock, Executive Director of the Healthy Baby Network said, “Expanding Medicaid benefits, including critical coverage for doulas and midwives, and efforts to include the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 in the Budget Reconciliation package are important next steps in addressing the multifaceted issues that have created and sustained racial health and birth disparities.
“Eliminating them requires each of us together, partnered with and centered on the needs of Black vulnerable pregnant and parenting women and fathers with their families. Healthy Baby Network Board and Staff sincerely thank Senator Schumer, every other Senator, and all the advocates nationally and locally who are supporting these important efforts.”
“Maternal healthcare saves lives,” said New York State Senator Jeremy A. Cooney.
“Maternal Health is a particularly pressing conversation right now, as the war to regulate women’s bodies reached a new low with restrictive reproductive rights laws in Texas.
“Increasing Medicaid coverage for doulas and midwives creating new resources for Black maternal health are critical for any conversation on reproductive justice, equitable, competent, and proactive maternal healthcare.
“When I lost my friend Lian to preeclampsia, I committed myself to increasing education and awareness on preeclampsia so that other spouses and children did not have to lose their wives and mothers through passing Lian’s Law.”