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Maternal Mortality Crisis: U.S. Lags Behind the World - What Can We Do?

February 26, 2024
February 26, 2024

As healthcare continues to evolve at breakneck speed, staying ahead of the curve is crucial for leaders. HealthStream's annual white paper, authored by industry expert Robin Rose, MHA, identifies the top ten trends poised to reshape the landscape in the coming year. This blog series delves into each trend.

Maternal Mortality Crisis: U.S. Lags Behind the World - What Can We Do?

Maternal mortality is a critical public health issue, and the United States' current ranking of 65th in the world is a stark and embarrassing reality. This abysmal ranking places the U.S. behind not only developed nations but also many countries with far fewer resources, including Oman, Tajikistan, and Saudi Arabia.

A Crisis in Numbers

  • In 2021, the U.S. witnessed a 40% increase in maternal mortality, with a rate of 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births (Hoyert, 2023).
  • This rate is more than ten times higher than that of several other high-income countries, such as Australia, Austria, Israel, Japan, and Spain, which all average between 2 and 3 deaths per 100,000.
  • The CDC reports that 84% of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are preventable, highlighting the urgency of addressing this issue (Trost et al., 2022).

Emerging Solutions

  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has implemented new quality measures aimed at improving maternal outcomes. These measures include encouraging hospitals to participate in perinatal quality collaboratives and implement patient safety practices.
  • Additionally, CMS now recognizes "Birthing-Friendly" hospitals on its website based on reported maternal outcome data.
  • Extending postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months is another promising strategy. The Biden-Harris American Rescue Plan (ARP) offers this option to states, and a recent report from HHS' ASPE demonstrates its potential impact. If all states adopted this extension, the number of individuals receiving coverage for a full year postpartum would double, reaching an estimated 720,000 annually (Gordon, 2023).

Looking Towards the Future

As we enter 2024, there is cautious optimism for improvement in the U.S. maternal mortality rate. With continued focus on quality improvement initiatives, expanded access to healthcare, and increased awareness of this critical issue, we can work towards a healthier future for all mothers.

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Hoyert DL. Maternal mortality rates in the United States, 2021. NCHS Health E-Stats. 2023. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.15620/cdc:124678

Trost SL, Beauregard J, Njie F, et al. Pregnancy-Related Deaths: Data from Maternal Mortality Review Committees in 36 US States, 2017-2019. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Health and Human Services; 2022.

Gordon S, Whitman, A, et al. Medicaid After Pregnancy: State-Level Implications of Extending Postpartum Coverage (2023 Update). (Issue Brief No. HP2023-10). Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. April 2023. Accessed at: https://aspe.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/168cd047bebc0725da3128104ec8fdde/Postpartum-Coverage-Issue-Brief.pdf