Black maternal health omnibus package introduced by Democratic lawmakers

Bonnie Cash

A trio of Black lawmakers on Monday introduced an omnibus bill aimed at combating the significant health inequities that Black mothers face across the country.

The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 follows a nearly identical legislative package that was introduced in the House in March right before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, though the new legislation includes three additional bills.

Reps. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Alma Adams (D-N.C.), who co-chair the House’s Black Maternal Health Caucus, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) announced the act via a virtual press conference.

Black women are more than three times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC attributes the disparities to unequal access to care, structural racism and implicit biases in the health care system that also can lead to a higher prevalence of underlying health conditions that complicate pregnancy.

The package of bills would fund community organizations and state and local governments working to improve maternal health outcomes, training programs on bias, racism and discrimination in maternity care settings, and efforts to grow the perinatal workforce.

It would also seek to address social determinants of health that can lead to poor health outcomes including access to housing, healthy food and water, transportation, child care services and improving access to health care.

The lawmakers hope the newly Democratic Senate and White House will provide a pathway for passage of the bill, which didn’t gain any traction last year.

“It is my goal to have at least some provisions signed into law this year and so we are working with that sense of purpose and urgency and laying the groundwork to make sure that leadership is well aware that these bills are coming their way,” Underwood said.

Booker noted that Vice President Harris was the lead sponsor of the Senate version of the bill last year when she was a California senator.

“I know of the White House’s commitment to issues of racial equity and to address the severe gaps we have in health care provision and outcomes in this country,” he said.

The pandemic, which has killed more than 400,000 people in the U.S., has not only brought to the forefront stark health disparities in communities of color, it has also exacerbated them, raising the need for substantive legislation.

“During COVID-19, we’ve seen Black, Hispanic, Indigenous and Asian Americans face higher rates of exposure to the virus and suffer more severe health consequences upon infection. These disparities are unacceptable,” Underwood said. “The hour for bold action has arrived and bold action is what the momnibus represents.”

The three new bills in the package target the country’s concerning maternal mortality rate and then maternal health as it relates to COVID-19, including the promotion of maternal vaccination.

Adams, 74, said that the inequity of Black maternal mortality was “deeply personal,” explaining how her daughter almost died from complications to childbirth after a physician ignored her complaints of abdominal pain — a pervasive issue throughout health care that’s at the center of Black maternal health disparities.

“During our clinical training we were taught that there’s ‘something about Black women,’ where we’re more likely to die as a result of pregnancy or labor or related complications” Underwood, who is a nurse, added. “That is, that is the wrong message to be sending as part of clinical training for our health care providers.”

The Illinois congresswomen noted that one part of the bill seeks greater investments in making the prenatal workforce more diverse and trained properly to listen and adhere to the needs of birthing people of color.

Tags Alma Adams Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act Cory Booker Cory Booker COVID-19 healthcare inequity Lauren Underwood Lauren Underwood maternal mortality rate

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