WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) bill to expand maternal care in underserved and rural communities was signed into law. Brown’s bill, the Improving Access to Maternity Care Act, will work to identify areas lacking maternal health care professionals and provide incentives for providers practicing in those areas, to help ensure women have access to timely, high-quality maternity care. Brown’s bill becomes law after a recent Ohio Department of Health report found the number of black infant deaths continued to rise last year. The Improving Access to Maternity Care Act is also sponsored by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and endorsed by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), the March of Dimes, and the National Rural Health Association (NRHA).
“Healthy pregnancies lead to healthy babies, and no mother-to-be should go without the care she needs,” said Brown. “This bill will allow us to target maternity care resources where they’re most needed, and help ensure healthier pregnancies, healthier mothers, and healthier babies.”
The Improving Access to Maternity Care Act directs the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to identify and designate maternity care shortage areas so that the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) can then assign maternity care professionals to those areas. Ob-gyns are currently recognized under the primary care shortage designation, which fails to adequately address shortages in maternity care.
According to ACOG, babies born to mothers who received no prenatal care are three times more likely to be low birth weight, and five times more likely to die than babies whose mothers received care. Ohio is ranked among some of the worst in the nation for African American infant mortality. In 2017, 982 black infants died before their first birthday.