Texas' Maternal Mortality Rate: Worst in Developed World
September 7, 2017Share:
At a time when we agree on so few things, I think that one thing on which we can all agree is the need to protect the well-being of newborn babies. Babies enter the world totally dependent on their mothers for love, nourishment, and security. So, when a mother’s health suffers or when she dies from pregnancy-related causes, it is not only an insurmountable catastrophe for the family; it is also a stain upon our society because we are allowing a typically preventable tragedy to occur.
Texas: #1 in Maternal Mortality
Unfortunately, Texas has the distinction of having the highest rate of maternal mortality not only in the U.S. but in the entire developed world. A 2016 study led by a University of Maryland research group found that the maternal mortality rate in Texas doubled between 2010 and 2012 and that African-American women in Texas were much more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes in the year after birth than white or Hispanic women. Black women account for 11% of births but 28% of maternal deaths in Texas.
The U.S. maternal mortality rate was second only to Mexico among countries that report to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It’s devastating, then, to realize that Texas leads the way as one of the worst of the worst.
Texas: #1 in Uninsured
An obvious reason for this is that Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the United States. Even so, the state rejected a federally funded expansion of Medicaid that would have covered 1.1 million more Texans. The budget passed by the legislature once again underfunded Medicaid.
More than half of all births in Texas are paid for by Medicaid, but coverage for new mothers ends just 60 days after childbirth. Many of these new mothers lack adequate prenatal care, are not in good health when they delivered, and are lucky to have one appointment within the allotted 60-day period after their deliveries because of clinic back-logs. In fact, the majority of the 189 maternal deaths from 2011 to 2012 (examined in the 2016 study) occurred after the 60-day mark. Other leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths in Texas are untreated cardiac events, drug overdoses, and hypertension.
Texas: #1 in No Response to Crisis
The research group recommended that lawmakers extend health care access for women on Medicaid from 60 days to one year after childbirth. A bill from Representative Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) would have extended Medicaid coverage for new mothers to a year after birth—but it did not receive a committee hearing.
Rep. Farrar introduced another bill that would have provided screening and treatment for postpartum depression for mothers whose babies are on Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) plan. One-sixth of all new mothers experience postpartum depression, but half of the cases go undiagnosed. Postpartum depression can incapacitate a mother or even lead to suicide. But that bill didn’t get a committee hearing either.
A less ambitious version did pass the Legislature and is awaiting action from Governor Greg Abbott. The proposal, by Sarah Davis (R-West University Place), offers postpartum screening for up to one year after birth…but does not include funding for treatment. It’s sad that the illness could potentially be diagnosed but that no treatment would be provided.
We could greatly reduce the rate of maternal mortality in Texas if all new mothers had access to adequate healthcare. Wouldn’t it be good if all of us could agree that access to healthcare is a human right, a moral obligation of a civilized society, and not a subject of partisan politics?
Sources and Resources
- Texas Observer: “Texas’ Maternal Mortality Rate: Worst in Developed World, Shrugged off by Lawmakers”
- Chicago Tribune: “Texas has highest pregnancy-related death rate in developed world, study says”
- KHOU: “VERIFY: Does Texas have the highest maternal mortality rate in the US?”
- Texas Tribune: “Texas legislators pass bills aimed at maternal mortality, postpartum depression”
- Texas Department of State Health Services: “Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force”