I wanted to make sure you saw the extensive report in the Texas Tribune yesterday regarding the state's maternal mortality crisis, an issue that is sure to be on the agenda during the next legislative session. The Tribune has a follow-up story today on the shortage of rural Texas hospitals that deliver babies, one of the obstacles to prenatal care and support for maternal health.
As always, the story of the family who lost their mother was both difficult to read and a reminder of the urgency of addressing this issue.
Because of our organization's focus on children, the article also drove home for me that the state's maternal mortality crisis is a sign of our inadequate support for maternal health more broadly. Maternal health, of course, is critical for healthy pregnancies and for preventing birth defects, low-birth weight, preterm births, and other infant health concerns. As researchers and policymakers increasingly focus on the importance of a child's first 1,000 days of life, addressing maternal health must be one of the priorities.
A few other things in the article jumped out at me.
- The Tribune article notes that several policy areas under the Legislature's jurisdiction are linked to the issue, reporting that numerous experts suggested, "Too many Texas women — particularly low-income women — don’t have access to health insurance, birth control, mental health care, substance abuse treatment and other services that could help them become healthier before and after pregnancy."
- The article particularly delves into the connection to our state's high uninsured rate, noting, "Texas has the highest uninsured rate for women ages 19-64 in the country at 19 percent." The article explains, "A lack of insurance makes it harder for women to manage long-term health issues — and for women of child-bearing age to get the prenatal care that can help prevent maternal deaths."
- The Tribune highlights that high rates of Texas women across all racial/ethnic backgrounds start prenatal care late, although Black and Hispanic women (who are more likely to be uninsured) have similarly elevated rates.
- In the article, Dr. Lisa Hollier, the chair of the state's task force on maternal mortality, explained that one of the challenges is that uninsured women in Texas can't apply for Medicaid until after they know they are pregnant, "She said the state must more quickly process applications for Medicaid for Pregnant Women and that health care providers must get high-risk women in for prenatal appointments faster."
- The article also highlights that many Texas women are missing important postpartum visits with their medical providers, with White and Black women missing them at similar rates and Hispanic women missing them at higher rates. Postpartum care could be lifesaving. These visits are a key chance to talk about future health and to catch health concerns that crop up after a baby is born.
- While moms of all backgrounds are at risk, a disproportionate number of Black moms are dying. The article notes, "Even though Hispanic and black women have similar rates of chronic health issues like obesity, diabetes and heart disease, task force members and researchers say they can’t explain why Hispanic mothers are more likely to survive pregnancy complications." A growing body of research points to the stress of racism as a key explanation for worse birth outcomes for Black women in America.
I hope you'll read the article and join me in working on this critical issue.