Black women under the age of 24 are more likely to experience severe childbirth complications than white women over the age of 35 — an age group usually considered high risk, according to new data from the BlueCross BlueShield Association (BCBSA).

Data shows the rates of childbirth complications have steadily increased for women of color. In the last two years, the rate of Hispanic women with severe childbirth complications increased 19 percent.

“There is an urgent maternal health crisis in our country,” said Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBSA. “It is unconscionable that women of color face a greater risk of childbirth complications compared to white women. We must confront health disparities across the board to change the trajectory.”

The recent study examines the rate of childbirth complications as measured by the CDC’s Severe Maternal Morbidity Measure (SMM) — 21 different adverse events or unexpected outcomes from labor and delivery with significant short or long-term consequences to a woman’s health, and in some cases, may lead to death.

SMM rates are 63 percent higher for women in majority Black communities and 32 percent higher for women in majority Hispanic communities when compared to majority-white communities.

In addition, BCBSA says they surveyed approximately 750 women about their pregnancy and childbirth care experience in the last year, representing commercial, Medicaid, Medicare and uninsured individuals.

The survey found 62 percent of Black mothers were able to complete all recommended prenatal visits, citing transportation barriers or scheduling conflicts.

Compared to white women, Black and Hispanic women reported feeling less confident they would receive the care they need.

Fewer Black mothers reported feeling they can speak openly with their provider, or felt that their provider spent enough time with them.

“The disparities we see in maternal health care are the result of a complex fabric of social, racial and economic injustice – and require a new system of health caring, not just health care,” said Keck. “Every mother deserves to have the best care at every stage of their pregnancy. This is why Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies have committed to reducing racial disparities in maternal health by 50 percent in five years.”

BCBS companies have started the work to reduce these disparities and prevent dangerous and tragic outcomes for women of color, says the organization.

This includes identifying women at risk of SMM and providing one-on-one coaching to manage chronic conditions during pregnancy, addressing underlying social needs and providing community support, such as doulas, to mothers throughout their pre- and postnatal journeys.

They say they’re also actively leaning into new and longstanding relationships with community organizations to address root causes of inequities.

As well as advocating for public policies at the state and federal levels including the Momnibus Act of 2021 — a set of bills they say will save the lives of new and expecting moms.

Introduced by Reps. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) and Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 builds on existing legislation to address the maternal health crisis the nation is facing.

Along with investing in telehealth in underserved areas, providing funding for community-based organizations and improved support for incarcerated moms, congressional leaders are also calling for new policies like 12-month postpartum Medicaid coverage.

It would ensure moms have access to care and support for the full postpartum period.

“For me – like countless others who are dedicated to this effort – this issue is deeply personal. My focus on Black maternal health began when my daughter survived a complicated pregnancy that almost claimed her life and the lives of my grandchildren. I knew when I got to Congress, I had to make this a priority,” said Adams.

“Black mothers are needlessly dying during what should be one of the most joyous times of their lives,” she said. “So it’s absolutely critical that we provide mothers and birthing persons the support they need – before, during and after pregnancy.”

Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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