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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) held its inaugural Health Equity Conference during the second week of June, with programming dedicated to primary health, dental health, health policy, and sessions aimed at improving maternal health equity and healthier birthing outcomes, particularly in BIPOC communities.
Recently, a new federal analysis reported an alarming surge in maternal death rates by 40% during the second year of the pandemic in 2021. When considering the modernized healthcare system offered in this age in 2023, the question begs as to why so many Black women are still facing traumatic, and at worst, grave complications during childbirth.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Maternal Mortality Report 2021, revealed major disparities. While Hispanic and White women faced increases as well, Black women neared a rate of almost 70 deaths per 100,000. Some of the top causes of maternal death have pointed to cases of eclampsia (as seen in the cause of death of the U.S. Olympic athlete Tori Bowie), hemorrhage, and even mental health-related issues.
Experts are making correlations between increasing maternal mortality rates and deeper flaws within health systems, highlighting structural racism, access to healthcare, and the dire need for equity-centered initiatives to lessen these fatal gaps.
“These are traumatizing situations, and we are not doing what needs to be done. Anything happens at birth, but it happens to people of color in health instances all the time, and being able to have spaces where you are acknowledging that there is trauma going into, what can turn out to be traumatic— even beyond everyone’s best efforts, is so essential,” said Sinsi Hernandez-Cancio, vice president for Health Justice with the National Partnership for Women and Families, during the conference’s maternal health panel held in Howard University’s Blackburn building.
Chief Population Health Officer for CMS Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services Dr. Ellen-Marie Whelan sat with maternal health leaders to discuss the gaping holes in federal health policy, and the birthing disparities greatly caused by a lack of federal financial supports.
While running her own adolescent primary care clinic in Philadelphia, Whelan discovered a bevy of roadblocks due to federal policy and regulations that have historically deprived needed services in maternal health spaces.
“”What is value-based care?’ is one of the first things. We are just paying wrong for care. Those doctors [giving poor maternal care in hospital spaces] make the same amount of money as someone who[provides patients with] better [birthing] outcomes,” Whelm said. “The system is broken, and that is what value-based care is supposed to be doing.”