Legislation Seeks to Decrease Rural Maternal Deaths

Daily Yonder, Liz Carey

The maternal death rate is 60% higher in rural areas than central parts of metropolitan areas. A bill introduced by a member of Congress from New Mexico seeks to close the gap.

As pregnancy-related deaths in rural areas climb, federal lawmakers hope to reverse the trend with legislation that will attract more healthcare providers to rural areas and identify the causes of pregnancy-related deaths.

In September, U.S. Representative Xochitl Torres Small, D-New Mexico, introduced HB 4243, the Rural Maternal and Obstetric Modernization of Services Act (the Rural MOMS Act). The bill would add incentives to attract healthcare providers, fund equipment purchases, and support data collection on maternal health and morbidity in rural areas.

The U.S. ranks as one of the worst developed nations for maternal mortality, with more pregnancy-related deaths than Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan. Rural parts of the U.S. have 60% higher mortality rates, according to 2015 data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The report says the mortality rate in large central metropolitan areas was 18.2 per 100,000 live births, compared to 29.4 per 100,000 live births in the most rural areas.

In May, Seema Verna, the director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in her statement to the National Rural Health Association Conference in Atlanta that maternal health was one of her department’s top priorities.

“Maternal health is a growing concern in the country,” she said in her remarks. “About 700 women die each year in the U.S. due to pregnancy or delivery complications.”  Nearly two-thirds of those deaths are preventable, she said.

Rural America’s higher maternal mortality rate “is particularly concerning to me… because early in my career, I worked on a healthy babies program and here we are… decades later… dealing with the same challenges… some of which have gotten worse,” Verna said. “Statistics show that pregnancy-related mortality deaths have almost doubled in the last 30 years.”

Since Verna’s speech in May, there’s been lots of discussion and fact finding, said Katy Backes Kozhimannil, director of the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center.

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