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ACOG lends support to bill promoting maternal mortality review committees



The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists offered its backing for a bill that would lend federal support to existing and new maternal mortality review committees.

Dr. Lynne Coslett-Charlton, ACOG Pennsylvania District legislative chair Courtesy House Energy & Commerce Committee

Dr. Lynne Coslett-Charlton

The Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2018 (H.R. 1318) was the subject of a Sept. 27 hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee. The bill comes at a time when 700 women a year die as a result of pregnancy or pregnancy-related complications with a rate that is increasing, while 157 of 183 countries around the world are reporting decreasing rates of maternal mortality, according to ACOG.

The bill, authored by Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) would allocate $58 million for each fiscal year from 2019 through 2023 to support the 33 existing states with maternal mortality review committees (MMRCs) and help the remaining 17 states develop them, as well as to standardize data collection across the nation.

The goal of having these committees in place is to “improve data collection and reporting around maternal mortality, and to develop or support surveillance systems at the local, state, and national level in order to better understand the burden of maternal complications,” a background memo on the hearing noted. “These surveillance efforts include identifying groups of women with disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality and identifying the determinants of disparities in maternal care, health risks, and health outcomes.”

Necessitating this legislation was a data point that was reiterated throughout the course of the hearing – that maternal mortality rates in the United States were on the rise.

“What’s both surprising and devastating is that, despite massive innovation and advances in health care and technology, we’ve experienced recent reports that have indicated that the number of women dying due to pregnancy complications is actually increasing,” Full Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in his opening remarks at the hearing. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, maternal mortality rates in America have more than doubled since 1987. I think we are asking, how can that be? This is not a statistic any of us wants to hear.”

Chairman Walden acknowledged that there are questions as to whether the increase was a function of better data collection or whether it was an issue with the delivery of health care.

“The bill before us today will help us answer these really important questions and hopefully ensure that expectant newborn mothers receive even better care,” he said.

Lynne M. Coslett-Charlton, MD, ACOG Pennsylvania District legislative chair, offered the organization’s support for the bill.

MMRCs “are multidisciplinary groups of local experts in maternal and public health, as well as patient and community advocates, that closely examine maternal death cases and identify locally relevant ways to prevent future deaths,” she testified before the committee. “While traditional public health surveillance using vital statistics can tell us about trends and disparities, MMRCs are best positioned to comprehensively assess maternal deaths and identify opportunities for prevention.”

Dr. Coslett-Charlton added that to clearly understand why women are dying from preventable maternal complications, which she noted that 60% of maternal deaths are, “every state must have a robust MMRC. The Preventing Maternal Deaths Act will help us reach that goal, and ultimately improve maternal health across this nation,” as these committees review every maternal death and can make a determination as to whether they could have been preventable.

Additionally, the fact that black women face a significantly higher rate of maternal mortality was another data point highlighted during the hearing, further adding to the need for this bill that has bipartisan support and more than 170 cosponsors.

Rep. DeGette called it “one of the most striking aspects” that black women “are nearly four times as likely to experience a pregnancy-related death.”

Stacey D. Stewart, president of the March of Dimes, in her written testimony praised the inclusion in H.R. 1318 of a “demonstration project to determine how best to address disparities in maternal health outcomes.”

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