The Biden administration is set to unveil plans to overhaul the maternal health care system in the United States.
The comprehensive plan, called the White House Blueprint for Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis, will be announced by Vice President Kamala Harris at an event in Plainfield, Illinois, according to senior administration officials who are familiar with the plans. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the plans ahead of the event. Harris will be joined by a congressional delegation including Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Lauren Underwood and Rep. Robin Kelly, all Democrats from Illinois.
The officials said the plan was needed now more than ever because an already existing crisis has been deepened by Covid-19. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, large parts of the country will lose access to abortion care, which is expected to worsen health outcomes for people during pregnancy and childbirth.
“You know that these continued attacks, including restrictions on abortion, and even family planning, really do undermine the ability for women to be safe and healthy. The administration feels strongly that the ability to choose when and how to give birth is an essential,” one official said.
The US already has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world. Rates of serious injuries and preventable health problems around the time of birth are also high compared with rates of other countries.
These deaths and injuries disproportionately affect Black people and Native Americans.
“Black women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women, and Native American women are more than twice as likely to die,” the official said.
Large parts of rural American have also lost access to obstetrical care when their hospitals have closed and specialists have moved away, creating maternal care deserts.
“Women who live in rural communities are one and a half times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, so we know that this issue is of utmost importance,” the official said.
The Blueprint has five major goals:
• To increase health care access and coverage
• To address bias in health care so women are heard and respected when they raise concerns
• To improve data collection
• To expand and diversify the medical workforce that cares for pregnant people
• To help low income women who lack economic and social supports before, during and after pregnancy
It addresses many of the acknowledged contributors to poor maternal health, including postpartum mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, lack of access to health care after birth, addiction and substance abuse, poverty, and racism and bias in health care.
The plan calls on Congress to expand Medicaid coverage. Medicaid covers 42% of all births in the United States, but in many states, it only covers care for 60 days after a person delivers a baby. Fourteen states have expanded that coverage for a full year. The Vice President is expected to press Congress to make this a national requirement for all states.
“If all states did this, we would see 720,000 women gain coverage,” an official said.
The plan would beef up training for rural health care providers, and fund training in implicit bias and racial discrimination.
It creates a new mental health hotline that would serve pregnant women and women with infants.
And it would ease access to social services by making it easier to enroll in federal programs for housing, childcare and income assistance, an official said.
It also includes protections for mothers at work, including having access to lactation rooms and breaks to pump breast milk.
The Vice President’s plan would be funded with $470 million appropriated in the administrations FY 2023 budget.