Dr. Avenel Joseph Vice President, Policy for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest health philanthropy, discussed a recent op-ed she co-authored, that emphasizes the need for immediate congressional action during the post-election session to expand care for mothers and babies, including an expansion of Medicaid and passage of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act.
We discussed the fact that the United States is one of the most dangerous high-income countries in the world in which to give birth, with more than 1,200 dying from complications associated with pregnancy or childbirth in 2021. She notes that these deaths are across all ethnicities and income levels, but they are increasing and this crisis disproportionately affects people of color, which accounted for nearly 60% of those deaths, along with undocumented and incarcerated women, people experiencing intimate partner violence, and LGBTQ+ individuals. Dr Joseph tells us an inequitable health system, inherent and structural racism and discrimination in healthcare settings, and the lack of investment in maternal and child care are all root causes of this crisis that dates back generations and has worsened during the pandemic. The numbers have been rising since the ‘90s and she points out that, added to COVID, the recent Dobbs decision which allowed states to restrict therapeutic abortion will drive the numbers even higher. She explained the policies advocated by the foundation that can protect maternal and child health long after pregnancy, including jobs that provide a living wage; health insurance and paid family and medical leave; access to quality and affordable child care; and safe housing and nutritious food.
For more information about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and its data on maternal health go to RWJF.org.