U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, alongside 14 Senate colleagues, called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to address the agency’s meek response to the public health needs of at-risk populations and pregnant people during the COVID-19 outbreak. The maternal health and mortality crisis has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of July 16, over 12,000 pregnant people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 35 pregnant people have died. Underserved populations have been hit especially hard by the maternal mortality and coronavirus crises due to overwhelming effects of the virus on communities of color and rural populations. In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Gillibrand and her colleagues urged the agency to strengthen its efforts to protect pregnant people during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for at-risk populations whose public health needs have been overlooked.
“The COVID-19 outbreak has placed an undeniable burden on our health care system and increased the urgency for stronger maternal health policies. Our country has the highest maternal mortality rate in the industrialized world, and during this public health crisis we must address the disparities that harm pregnant individuals across the country,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The Department of Health and Human Services continues to ignore its responsibility to protect the public’s health, in particular the health of the most vulnerable among us. HHS must adopt a plan to immediately provide critical resources and investments in maternal health care to combat this epidemic and ensure that racial disparities are addressed.”
The maternal mortality rate in the United States is among the worst in the developed world. Over the past decade, New York State alone has experienced a 60% increase in maternal mortality. The maternal mortality crisis is particularly dangerous for people of color who are more likely to die from pregnancy related complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that hospitalization of pregnant people has increased during the coronavirus outbreak, and pregnant Black and Hispanic individuals are infected at much higher rates. Gillibrand and her colleagues are urging HHS to improve data collection and public health communication, expand surveillance efforts, ensure the proper inclusion of pregnant people in COVID-19 clinical trials, and address racial disparities in health care outcomes.
Senator Gillibrand has been a continuous champion of robust maternal health care and health equity. Most recently Gillibrand called on Senate leadership to strengthen maternal health policies in the next coronavirus relief package. These solutions included extending Medicaid coverage for postpartum women, expanding Medicaid coverage beyond “pregnancy-related services”, and provision’s from Gillibrand’s Modernizing Obstetric Medicine Standards (MOMS) Act to dedicate funding to states and hospitals to help reduce maternal deaths, and prevent and respond to complications arising from pregnancy and childbirth.
Full text of the letter can be found here.