By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have announced actions to strengthen health equity and address racial disparities in maternal health through increased investment in reducing maternal mortality and morbidity.
The White House said the President’s discretionary funding request includes significant funding to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity rates, improve health equity, and end race-based disparities nationwide, including:
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 the 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.
“Health care is a right, not a privilege, and our country needs a health care system that works for all of us,” President Biden declared.
“That is something both Vice President Harris and I have fought for throughout our careers. As a senator, Vice President Harris was a champion of Black maternal health, introducing legislation to close gaps in access to quality maternal care and educate providers about implicit bias.”
The President continued, “And during my time as Vice President, I fought for the Affordable Care Act and to strengthen Medicaid, both of which ensure access to critical services to support maternal health.
“Within just a few years of the Affordable Care Act’s passage, Black uninsured rates dramatically declined — a key factor in ensuring better maternal health outcomes — as did the persistent health insurance coverage gap between Black and White Americans, which fell by more than 40 percent in the wake of the law’s implementation.”
The announcement arrived during Black Maternal Health Week and at a time when America’s maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the developed world.
White House statistics revealed that it is incredibly high among Black women and Native American women – regardless of their income or education levels.
Recent data show that Black women are roughly two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than non-Hispanic white women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that two out of three of these deaths are preventable.
“Quality, equitable health care is a right, not a privilege. The actions announced today are initial steps in the critical work this Administration will do 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,” President Biden exclaimed.
In his first 100 days, President Biden issued executive orders to implement a comprehensive approach to advancing racial equity and establishing the White House Gender Policy Council to take a whole-of-government approach to gender equity.
Both processes will end disparities that affect women and girls of color, including the maternal health crisis, White House officials stated.
Through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Department of Health and Human Services approved a Medicaid Section 1115 waiver in Illinois that will allow the state to extend postpartum coverage to Medicaid-eligible women beyond 60 days and up to 12 months.
The approval will help ensure access to vital health care services, promote better health outcomes, and reduce the rate of maternal morbidity and mortality.
According to Administration officials, Illinois is the first state to extend postpartum coverage to all pregnant women under Medicaid.
The Administration has invited all states to provide full Medicaid benefits during pregnancy and the extended postpartum period.
The President also announced $12 Million in Additional Funds for Maternal Obstetric Care in Rural Communities.
The funding is available through new awards for the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy’s RMOMS Program.
The program is designed to develop models and implement strategies that improve access to and continuity of maternal obstetrics care in rural communities.
It will help improve maternal health outcomes for underserved rural mothers, including Black rural mothers.
For the first time, applicants are required to focus on populations that have historically suffered from poorer health outcomes, health disparities, and other inequities.
“Addressing systemic barriers across the board will improve outcomes for Black mothers and their families and make our entire country stronger, healthier, and more prosperous,” President Biden remarked.
“At the same time, the United States must also grow and diversify the perinatal workforce, improve how we collect data to better understand the causes of maternal death and complications from birth, and invest in community-based organizations to help reduce the glaring racial and ethnic disparities that persist in our health care system.”