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Newhouse, Axne Introduce Bill to Improve Healthcare Access, Outcomes for New and Expecting Mothers in Rural America

February 3, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Reps. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Cindy Axne (D-IA) led a group of lawmakers to reintroduce the Rural Maternal and Obstetric Modernization of Services Act (Rural MOMS Act). The bill aims to improve healthcare access and outcomes for new and expecting mothers in rural communities across the United States by addressing rural maternal mortality and morbidity rates and expanding access to healthcare services for pregnant women and new mothers in remote areas.

“The alarming maternal mortality rates among rural and minority women is persistent and tragic, but in the 21st century, it can and must be fixed,” said Rep. Newhouse. “From advancing and rewarding innovative data reporting efforts to expanding access to maternal telehealth services and providing training to better equip healthcare professionals to serve these women, this legislation takes concrete steps to address the root causes of this problem. Rural moms deserve the same standard of care as their urban counterparts, and this bill will make that a reality.”

“Iowans looking to start a family shouldn’t face unnecessary barriers to care based solely on where they choose to live,” said Rep. Axne. “Faced with financial challenges, we’ve seen rural hospitals in Iowa close their labor and delivery units just to make ends meet. Expecting and new moms need accessible, quality maternal health care, but right now too many moms are forced to spend hours in the car driving to appointments to keep themselves and their baby healthy. I’m proud to lead legislation that will shine a light on these disparities, invest in our health care workforce, and improve access to maternal health care for families in rural Iowa.”

“Comprehensive maternal health care is critically important for all pregnant individuals and especially those who experience disproportionate negative outcomes because they don’t live near a hospital,” said Maureen Phipps, MD, MPH, FACOG, CEO of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “With the introduction of the Rural MOMS Act, we move one step closer to ensuring that pregnant individuals will be able receive quality prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum care, no matter their zip code. Maternal health care in rural areas is rapidly disappearing across the United States, and we have learned that it doesn’t affect everyone equally. People of color are disproportionately affected. To address this, the Rural MOMS Act provides grants to connect patients with needed care, addresses inequities in birth outcomes among rural residents, expands telehealth services and provides training for health facilities without obstetric health units, among other measures. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is proud to support this bill and thanks Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cynthia Axne for their leadership in making sure moms across the country are able to access the care they need.”

The bill was also cosponsored by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Bob Latta (R-OH), Tom Cole (R-OK), Angie Craig (D-MN), Troy Balderson (R-OH), Joe Morelle (D-NY), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), and Ashley Hinson (R-IA).

The Rural MOMS Act will:

  • Create Rural Maternal and Obstetric Care Data improvements by requiring the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to coordinate efforts around maternal mortality and morbidity, to report on women’s health conditions according to sociocultural and geographic contexts, and to emphasize research on pregnancy-related deaths.
  • Award Rural Obstetric Network Grants to assist in the creation of regional innovation networks to address maternal mortality morbidity rates as well as birth outcomes.
  • Expand Existing Federal Telehealth Grant Programs to include birth and postnatal services as part of telehealth networks, and utilize federal funding for the cost of ultrasound machines, fetal monitoring equipment, and other pregnancy-related technology by expanding the Federal Telehealth Grant Programs.
  • Launch a Rural Maternal and Obstetric Care Training Demonstration for family medicine physicians, obstetricians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, midwives, doulas, and other medical professionals to provide maternal care services in rural community-based settings.
  • Report on Maternal Care in Rural Areas to identify the locations of gaps in maternity care, recommendations to standardize data collection on maternal mortality and morbidity, and activities to improve maternal care in rural areas.

Click here to read the text of the bill and click here for a one pager.

Background:

The United States has some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world, with pregnant women and new mothers in rural areas facing significantly higher chances of dying from causes related to pregnant or childbirth compared to their urban counterparts. For example, according to 2015 data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the maternal mortality rate in large central metropolitan areas was 18.2 per 100,000 live births when compared to 29.4 per 100,000 live births in the most rural areas.

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