Maternal and child health legislation must be prioritized now
Congress has a historic opportunity this year to pass legislation that will help mothers and children, and address health equity gaps in America. With House passage of the Build Back Better Act complete, all eyes are on the Senate. Our leaders in Congress and the White House have an opportunity to act on behalf of America’s families through passage of the maternal and child health provisions of the Build Back Better Act and other critical maternal health legislation.
Maternal death related to childbirth in the U.S. is the highest rate in the developed world. The time to act is now. Black moms are dying at three times the rate of their white counterparts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has directly impacted children and youth, in a starkly inequitable manner. The American Academy of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital Association and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists have “sounded the alarm” that our nation’s children and youth are experiencing a mental health crisis.
The American Rescue Plan included policy changes to support children, youth and families, such as an expanded Child Tax Credit, a Medicaid state plan option to extend postpartum coverage to one year after the end of pregnancy, and investments in a variety of programs to address social drivers of health. While these were positive changes, the federal government must take further action to rebuild from the pandemic and put the next generation on stable footing.
We recommend that Congress pass the following policies now.
We urge enactment of the maternal and child health provisions in the House-passed Build Back Better Act. These are critical policies since poverty is the single largest driver of health according to the World Health Organization. The bill includes 12-month continuous coverage for eligible children, pregnant and postpartum women under Medicaid and CHIP—it would also extend an expanded version of the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Access to health insurance coverage results in improvements in health, educational, and socioeconomic status. The bill also includes a host of policies to strengthen nutrition, improve access to child care and pre-k, and invest in mental health, the health care workforce, paid family leave and other programs that address social drivers.
We also support enactment of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.), and are glad to see a historic investment in the Momnibus Act as part of the House-passed Build Back Better Act. This down payment is an important first step in addressing the maternal mortality crisis and disparities in poor health outcomes, which are acute for people of color, especially Black people. We must prioritize this historic investment in maternal health equity, specifically for Black, Hispanic and Indigenous people. But the work does not stop there—the full Momnibus Act must be authorized and passed into law.
In addition to these important provisions, we call on Congress to pass the bipartisan Maternal Health Quality Improvement Act, sponsored by Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Reps. Robin Kelly (D-IL) and Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.). This bill would fund efforts to improve maternal health care across the board through quality improvement, provider training and better data collection. It would also help modernize maternal care in rural areas at a time when rural hospitals are facing record numbers of hospital closures and an acute shortage of doctors.
We can—and we must—do better, and passage of these key bills would result in dramatic positive change. We encourage Congress to do the right things to secure a more prosperous future for children and families, and our nation.
R. Lawrence Moss, MD, FACS, FAAP, is president and CEO of Nemours Children’s Health, one of the largest integrated children’s health systems in the United States. Stacey D. Stewart is president and CEO of March of Dimes.