Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Under Scrutiny

The U.S. ranks as the country with the highest chance of negative maternal outcomes amongst other similarly developed countries.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cate Brantley reported this story recently during Monitor Mondays.

With the recent Dobbs decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, there has been renewed interest in maternal healthcare and how to best support American families. The Biden administration recently announced a goal of making the United States the “best country in the world to have a baby,” could face an uphill battle in the coming months with the current realities of maternal healthcare in the United States.

First, a bit of good news. Recent reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that while overall prices for common goods and services have grown over 8 percent from the previous year, prices for medical care have only increased around 3 percent. This contrasts with data from the last few decades, in which medical care prices have strongly outpaced overall consumer prices. Some say this trend in the last year might not last for long, however, as health prices generally are established in advance or are in some way tied to a plan or calendar year. This means it might just be a matter of time until these prices catch up and possibly overshoot these higher consumer prices.

While costs may be stable for now, some areas of healthcare typically grow in cost more quickly than any other type of medical care. Hospital services statistically grow the most rapidly, and true to form this cost has risen the most this year at nearly 4 percent. One of the best examples of these rising costs related to in-hospital services is care related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Pregnancy is one of the most common reasons for hospitalization amongst women aged 15-49. Maternal healthcare includes everything from prenatal visits, the birth itself, and any care related to the post-partum period for the mother. A recent report found that the average cost for pregnancy-related care is now at almost $19,000 total, with about $3,000 of that being out-of-pocket. This can go up to more than $26,000 for those who deliver by cesarean section. This places a large financial responsibility on parents at a time in their lives where they can expect their own household expenses to increase dramatically with the birth of their new child.

To assist parents with this financial burden as well as others associated with pregnancy, the Biden administration recently released its “Blueprint for Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis,” a comprehensive effort to address maternal mortality and morbidity. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that the maternal mortality rate for the United States was about 24 deaths per 100,000 live births. The maternal morbidity rate, in which unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery have serious health impacts, is estimated to affect around 60,000 women each year.  Both rates are increases from previous years, indicating that the U.S. is the country with the highest chance of negative maternal outcomes amongst other similarly developed countries.

One of the key aspects of the Biden administration’s plan is to encourage congress to strengthen and expand Medicaid coverage for mothers for a full 12 months postpartum, a dramatic increase from the current sixty days. The blueprint also includes calls for investments in a maternal mental health hotline, substance use services, better trained providers, and extended social services in addition to workplace protections for mothers, such as private break rooms. All of these are intended to decrease overall maternal mortality and morbidity, decrease the need for hospitalizations, particularly in the post-partum period, and improving the overall experience of pregnancy for women throughout the country.

While everyone can all agree that every American would love to see the U.S. become the best country in the world to have a baby, exactly how to do that is a bit more complicated. 

What is certain is that there’s no one size fit all solution and the Biden administration’s Blueprint is just one piece of the maternal healthcare puzzle.

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