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Cory Booker and Ayanna Pressley introduce bill to address maternal mortality

Days before Mother's Day, Democratic presidential hopeful and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley introduced legislation in the Senate and House to address the maternal mortality crisis in the United States. The bill, named the Maximizing Outcomes for Moms through Medicaid Improvement and Enhancement of Services (MOMMIES) Act, aims to substantially extend the time period Medicaid will cover postpartum women to a year after they give birth. Current Medicaid coverage for postpartum women is two months.

Despite improvements across all areas of health care, maternal mortality persists in the U.S. Approximately 700 women die yearly in the U.S. because of delivery complications and pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The bill also acknowledges the racial disparities that exist in maternal mortality -- the CDC has noted that the risk of death due to pregnancy-related causes is three to four times greater for black mothers than white mothers. 

Co-directors Elizabeth Dawes Gay and Angela Doyinsola Aina of the group Black Mamas Matter Alliance support the measure, and noted in a joint press release by Booker and Pressley that the bill embraces "services that are proven to positively impact maternal health outcomes for black women." Such services include the use of midwives, doulas and holistic birth workers.

Pressley said in a statement this legislation recognizes the racial disparities in health care and addresses the problem with a community-based approach.

"The lived experiences of Black women demonstrate how racism and trauma directly impacts the health and wellbeing of marginalized communities for generations," she said. "Maternal justice is about ensuring that every mom-to-be is listened to and treated with dignity and respect during and after childbirth."

Extending Medicaid coverage is also a key component of the measure, since it finances nearly half of all births in the U.S. -- 43 percent, according to a CDC report released in August 2018. The bill would ensure pregnant and postpartum women receive full Medicaid coverage. Medicaid, which is state-based, provides coverage for mothers below specific income levels, but the benefits and eligibility differ from state to state. 

"We simply cannot continue to accept this alarming status quo - we must do something about it and this bill is an important first step," Booker said in a statement. "By expanding Medicaid coverage for pregnant women, we can begin to stem the rising tide of maternal mortality and close the egregious racial gaps that exist in maternal and infant health outcomes."

USA Today investigation of maternal mortality in the U.S. found that Booker's home state of New Jersey ranked fifth in the country in terms of the highest maternal mortality rate.

According to Pressley's and Booker's release, 16 organizations, including the March of Dimes and Every Mother Counts, have endorsed the bill.

"The Act takes a comprehensive approach, going beyond putting a band-aid on a broken system, by enhancing available support services and filling gaps in the system that lead to poor health outcomes," said Christy Turlington Burns, who is the founder and CEO of Every Mother Counts, in a statement.

The legislation aims to increase doula care access and create a Maternity Care Home project that would study a patient-centered model of model of maternity care. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, California Senator Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren – all three of whom are 2020 Democratic presidential candidates – are cosponsoring this legislation. Earlier this year, Harris introduced a Senate resolution that would make April 11-17 Black Maternal Health Week. 

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, also a 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, has also mentioned maternal mortality in campaign speeches.