It’s Black Maternal Health Week, a little-known occasion with a grim origin. In the United States, Black women are nearly three times as likely to die from pregnancy complications than white women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two out of three of those deaths were preventable. This scourge impacts Black women the across socio-economic spectrum, from multi-millionaires like tennis star Serena Williams to working and middle-class black women in Georgia, Louisiana, and Indiana, the states with the highest Black maternal mortality rates in the nation. Now, the Biden-Harris administration is acknowledging the gap and has pumped millions of dollars into programs aimed at clamping down on the issue.
“[This gap happens] because of systemic inequities and implicit bias,” Vice President Harris said in a video address. “I’ve heard stories from Black women who told their doctor they were experiencing pain, only to be sent away. Women from different backgrounds, women with different education and income levels, and women who deserve to be heard and treated with dignity.”
On Tuesday, the administration released a memo with a thorough rundown of how they’ve taken the “initial steps” necessary to “address our maternal mortality crisis, close disparities in maternal care and outcomes for all birthing people, and address the systemic racism that has allowed these inequities to exist.”
The administration is highlighting the following achievements:
• Investing $200 million to: implement implicit bias training for healthcare providers; create State pregnancy medical home programs; bolster Maternal Mortality Review Committees; expand the Rural Maternity and Obstetrics Management Strategies (RMOMS) program; and help cities place early childhood development experts in pediatrician offices with a high percentage of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program patients;
• Increasing funding for the HHS Office for Civil Rights by 24 percent, to $47.9 million, to ensure protection of civil rights in healthcare;
• Providing $340 million, an increase of 18.7 percent, to the Title X Family Planning program, which will improve access to vital reproductive and preventive health services and advance gender and health equity;
• Prioritizing investments in programs that protect rural health care access and expand the pipeline of rural healthcare providers; and
• Supporting women and young children by providing $6 billion for the critical Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), to help vulnerable families put healthy food on the table and address racial disparities in maternal and child health outcomes.
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The statement also boasted $12 million in additional funds for maternal obstetrics in rural communities via the Health Resources and Services Administration and the approval of a Medicaid Section 1115 waiver in the state of Illinois that will, “allow the state to extend post-partum coverage to Medicaid-eligible women beyond 60 days and up to 12 months.” The Biden-Harris administration encouraged other states to take advantage of this benefit as well.
It’s hard not to be skeptical about the effectiveness of implicit bias training, whether it’s in racist policing or medical racism. And it’s also frustrating that Biden released a statement about Black Maternal Health Week that lauds his own support of the Affordable Care Act—which he credits for a steep reduction in Black uninsured rates, “a key factor in ensuring better maternal health outcomes”—and said that “health care is a right, not a privilege” yet he remains dedicated to America’s reliance on predatory health insurance companies, an institution built on the notion of health care as a privilege as opposed to a right.
But, hey, credit where credit is due: providing more resources to oversight committees, rural healthcare, and WIC is a good start. Too many Black women are dying, and there’s no time to waste.