PA Black Maternal Health Caucus

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. maternal mortality rate in 2021 was 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births. That was an alarming increase from just one year prior when the ratewas 23.8 deaths per 100,000 and also from  2019 when it was 20.1 deaths per 100,000. Even more alarming is how Pennsylvaniacompares to the national average. According to a PA Department of Health report, the state’s overall pregnancy-associated mortality rate in 2022 was 82 deaths per 100,000 live births, and the rate for the state’s Black population was twice as high at163 deaths per 100,000. 

PA Black Maternal Health Caucus co-chairsTo help address this health crisis, State Representatives Morgan Cephas (D-Phila), La’Tasha D. Mayes (D-Allegheny) and Gina H. Curry (D-Delaware) launched the Pennsylvania Black Maternal Health Caucus (BMH) this past October. All three are co-chairs of the caucus (and have been endorsed by Represent PA in their 2024 re-election campaigns). BMH’s goal is to bring visibility to Black maternal health issues and to advance legislation that improves maternal care and outcomes for all Pennsylvanians. 

One of the BMH’s first public actions was on October 31 when Rep. Cephas participated in the ceremonial signing of Act 5 into law by Gov. Josh Shapiro. The act – formerly known as SB 262 – was introduced by Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and requires the state’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee to share each reportable maternal mortality and morbidity event with the PA Department of Health. Rep. Cephas had introduced a companion bill in the House (HB 1362). In thanking both, Gov. Shapiro made a point that Act 5 was only a start in addressing the issue of maternal mortality. 

Indeed, the BMH has proposed a legislative package of four additional bills they are calling the Pennsylvania MOMNIBUS, modeled after the federal MOMNIBUS, which aims to decrease racial disparities in maternal health care and change the trajectory of maternal health outcomes in Pennsylvania. The bills are:

  • HB 1075 – Provides enhanced maternity care by requiring Pennsylvania insurance companies to cover up to an additional 24 hours of maternity care under observation if requested by the patient. 
  • HB 1425 – Directs the Department of Human Services to create and share a five-year plan to extend the Maternal Home Visiting program to all eligible families.
  • HB 1608 – Extends Medicaid coverage to doula services, which can provide tailored care for women who desperately need a support system; also creates a Doula Advisory Board responsible for determining the approved accreditation for doulas.
  • HB 1618 – Requires that doula services, which are currently unaffordable for many who need it, be covered by health insurance policies.

Most recently, Reps. Cephas, Curry and Mayes introduced
House Resolution 278 to designate January 23, 2024 as “Maternal Health Awareness Day” in Pennsylvania – a day to raise awareness about the critical issues surrounding maternal health and promote initiatives to reduce maternal mortality in our state. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has celebrated Maternal Health Awareness Day across the nation since 2016.

– By Karen Gelman, Represent PA volunteer