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May 8, 2019

WGBH: Rep. Ayanna Pressley: New Bill Would Combat Rising Maternal Death Rate

Rep. Ayanna Pressley is the leading sponsor on a new bill that would work to combat rising maternity death rates.

The bill, known as the MOMMIES Act, would extend Medicaid coverage from two months to a full year after childbirth and increase access to community-based services like doulas and midwives.

In a joint press call with one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Pressley said the issue hits home for her.

“My Grandma Carrie … died giving birth to my youngest uncle, Jerome,” Pressley said. “It’s hard to believe that that was the case in 1950, and here we find ourselves in 2019, and black women are still disproportionately dying in childbirth or in the days thereafter.”

According to the United Health Foundation, New Jersey has one of the the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation, and the highest for Black women, at 102.3 deaths per 100,000 live births.

“Senator Booker shared some sobering statistics about what’s happening in New Jersey,” Pressley said, “and … we’re not doing much better in Massachusetts.”

According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.

Despite the state’s reputation as a medical hub, Pressley says there is work to be done when it comes to maternal health.

“We still have health disparities in Massachusetts, even with having all that incredible access,” she said. “The statistics in Massachusetts are very sobering around the issue of maternal mortality, with a very sharp contrast along race lines.”

According to that CDC study, one-third of pregnancy-related deaths occur up to a year after birth, and about 3 in 5 pregnancy-related deaths could be prevented. Medicaid is used to cover more than half of all births in the United States, but the federal program ends just 60 days after childbirth.

The bill, according to Pressley, would extend that deadline in an effort to continue necessary Medicaid protections for new moms.

“The time to act is now, and ultimately, this is about saving lives,” she said.

“Even Beyonce and Serena Williams admitted that they wouldn’t have been able to survive their pregnancies if it wasn’t for the fact that they could afford high-quality care” Pressley continued. “So what does that mean for everyone else?”

In addition to Booker and Pressley, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) joined Representatives Alma Adams (D-NC) and Lauren Underwood (D-IL) in co-sponsoring the legislation.