America’s maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the developed world. It’s a crisis of epic proportions. And like many other crises, not all Americans are equitably affected.
Black mothers are three to four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women — regardless of their income or education level. The grievous statistic has caught the attention of the White House, which recently announced initial actions to address the Black maternal health crisis.
The plan focuses on strengthening health equity by creating pregnancy medical home programs and expanding rural maternity care. These actions, among others, may help address gaps in care that stem from long-standing societal and health system factors. Black women are more likely to experience barriers to quality care, studies show, and can face racial discrimination. In one national study, 21% of Black mothers reported that hospital staff treated them poorly due to their race, ethnicity or cultural background.
The White House’s plan also includes an investment in implicit bias training for health care providers. The approach guides providers to adjust their thinking patterns in a way that can reduce discriminatory behaviors.
Such a shift in thought and behavior can improve outcomes and save lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that at least 60% of Black maternal deaths could have been prevented by better knowledge of warning signs among patients and providers, among other factors.
Addressing racial disparities can also lower costs to the health care system. Researchers posited that eliminating racial disparities could generate $114 to $214 million per year in Medicaid cost savings from just 14 southern states.
Black women have suffered higher rates of maternal mortality for long enough. President Biden’s actions and proclamation are a critical acknowledgement of the Black maternal health crisis and a commitment to better protecting at stake: the lives and long-term health of Black Americans.