Morgan Cephas

Morgan Cephas

Looking to address Pennsylvania’s shockingly high maternal mortality rate among women of color, a Philadelphia lawmaker has rolled out a four-bill package that she says will “increase access to care and address bias within the healthcare system.”

“Pennsylvania has seen an increasing, disturbing trend in pregnancy-related deaths, with 11.4 deaths per 100,000 live births from 2012 to 2016,” state Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Philadelphia, said in a statement released by her office. “For women of color during that time period, that rate was more than double, at 27.2 per 100,000 live births. This is a clear indication that regardless of income and education levels, women of color are at an even greater risk than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications.”

The bills in Cephas’ package would:

Add severe maternal morbidity to the list of reportable events within the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Extend Medicaid coverage for pregnancy related and postpartum medical assistance.

Extend Medicaid coverage to doula services and create a Doula Advisory Board.

Require training to address implicit bias and culture competency that impact care and quality of care for patients of color, including women of color during pregnancy and childbirth.”

“While the death of any mother is a tragedy, the fact that many of these deaths could have been prevented is an absolute travesty,” Cephas said in that statement. “My legislation would help increase access to care and address bias within the healthcare system. We need to close the gaps for services and resources for women to ensure they have access to quality healthcare and to improve the health outcomes for mothers and babies in our commonwealth.”

Cephas’ bill fits into a larger effort at the state level to address maternal mortality rates.

In September, the state’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee, created by a 2018 law, said it plans to use a $2.25 million federal grant to hire staff, collect data and analyze the numbers. Some money will also go to a similar Philadelphia-based committee that studies maternal health.

The committee, which has its roots in legislation sponsored by Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Lehigh, studies all maternal deaths before or up to a year after birth. The committee will determine if a death was related to pregnancy complications, if the death was preventable, and will make recommendations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 700 women die from pregnancy complications each year, while three in five deaths are preventable. The rate is even higher for Black women.

The U.S. has the highest rate of maternal mortality of any developed nation in the world.

In a statement at the time, Gov. Tom Wolf said the federal grant will be “extremely helpful” in his efforts “to determine the reasons for these deaths and to develop prevention recommendations.”

John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.

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