Vice President Harris is calling for implicit racial bias in health care to be addressed, pointing to the Black maternal health crisis in the U.S.
In an email interview with Stat, Harris called for Black women to be “heard” and to be “treated with dignity and respect” throughout the birthing process.
“Black women deserve to be heard — and treated with dignity and respect — throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. And when they aren’t, whether or not they’re a member of my family, it affects me. It affects all of us, our communities, and our country,” Harris told the news outlet when asked how issues around biased health care have affected her and her family. Stat noted that Harris declined to answer several of the questions sent, including whether she has experienced racial bias when seeking health care.
Harris, who is of Jamaican and Indian descent, said “systemic disparities and implicit bias” exist in health care.
Harris pointed to several ways in which the Biden administration is seeking to address disparities in Black maternal health care, including $200 million in the administration’s budget to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity in the U.S.
“Our Administration is taking action, advancing initiatives like implicit bias trainings, which will help ensure Black women are heard; state pregnancy medical home programs, which will improve the quality of perinatal care for those on Medicaid, and Maternal Mortality Review Committees, which would provide crucial data on the deaths of mothers who die within a year of pregnancy,” Harris told Stat.
The U.S. has the highest rate of pregnancy-related deaths among industrialized countries. A report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2019 found that around three out of five pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. were preventable and that Black, Native American and Alaska Native women were two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues when compared to white women.
When asked by Stat what action could be taken if Congress does not act on the issue, Harris pointed to the recently passed American Rescue Plan, which provides resources for states to expand their Medicaid programs.
"States also have the chance to extend Medicaid coverage for a full year for women who are postpartum. Right now, nearly half of American births are paid for by Medicaid. So, this will help a lot of women," she said.
"Here’s the bottom line: I took an oath to defend the Constitution and protect the American people," Harris added. "As Vice President, it is my responsibility to stand up for everyone, and especially those who have been historically left out or left behind. And that’s why Black maternal health will continue to be a priority for me and our Administration."
In 2019, Harris, who was then running for president as a senator from California, introduced a bill to address racial disparities in maternal health care. The proposal called for $25 million to be invested in training programs for medical professionals to fight racial biases in maternal health.
“Black mothers across the country are facing a health crisis that is driven in part by implicit bias in our health care system," Harris said at the time. "We must take action to address this issue, and we must do it with the sense of urgency it deserves."