The Staggering Toll Of Maternal Health Inequities

Maternal Health Inequities

Pregnancy and childbirth are generally wonderful, safe experiences, however they can be dangerous, especially for people of color. In the US, pregnancy-related death is three to four times more likely than it is in ten similar countries. And, around 60,000 mothers experience pregnancy-related complications (termed severe maternal morbidity) every year, which seriously impacts health. By improving access to affordable healthcare, as well addressing issues like racism that influence health, decrease the likelihood of developing the conditions that lead to severe maternal morbidity.

Maternal morbidity

The healthcare system in the US is rife with racial and ethnic health disparities, maternal morbidity being one of the most severe. Severe maternal morbidity can result in lifelong high blood pressure, bleeding, diabetes, heart disease, and severe depression. Infants and children can also experience the lasting effects of maternal morbidity. Black mothers have rates of severe maternal morbidity 3.2 times higher than white mothers, while Alaska Native and American Indian mothers have rates 2.3 higher. In fact, a Black mother with commercial health insurance is nearly three times more likely to experience severe maternal morbidity than a white mother with Medicaid coverage.

Financial costs

Pregnancy-related complications are also expensive — the medical and nonmedical expenses costing around $32.3 billion in total for all children born in 2019 through to their fifth birthdays. Over 60% of these costs also negatively affect children’s health and development. Pregnancy-related complications can also sometimes be the result of medical negligence, which in turn may cause permanent disability for the infant. For example, an epidural hematoma (EDH) is a rare traumatic brain injury involving bleeding inside the skull, the brain’s dura, and potentially in the spinal column. Often the result of medical mistakes like the incorrect use of birthing tools, EDH can also sometimes lead to the infant developing cerebral palsy. In this case, an experienced epidural birth injuries lawyer can help families win financial compensation to cover lifelong medical costs.

The need for affordable care

Most pregnancy-related deaths and complications can be prevented with good-quality, comprehensive maternal care. However, it’s not always affordable, particularly for patients with public insurance or people of color. In many states, Medicaid pregnancy-related coverage begins with pregnancy and ends just two months after delivery. However, every mother needs access to healthcare well before and during pregnancy, as well as in the years following delivery (when issues like chronic disability postpartum depression can still develop). Fortunately, the Build Back Better Act is set to expand Medicaid coverage for one year after delivery, along with covering mental illness (a key cause of maternal morbidity). Additionally, the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 will further improve the maternal health care system and tackle long-standing social issues like nutrition and housing that affect maternal health.

Although most births in US are healthy and safe, maternal morbidity is far too common, particularly in historically marginalized individuals. By working to improve access to better and affordable maternal healthcare, we can make pregnancy and childbirth safer for mothers and babies alike.


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