Amid its celebration of Black Maternal Health Week in April 2022, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) raised awareness of a sobering fact: Black maternal mortality and morbidity are a healthcare crisis throughout the United States.

“Currently, Black mothers suffer pregnancy-related deaths at a rate that is three times higher compared to White mothers,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said. “This is unacceptable. These disparities persist regardless of education and income level. And we know that many of these deaths are preventable.”

Becerra said that HHS is expanding coverage, implementing new policies, and providing funding to ensure safer pregnancies and postpartum services for new Black mothers and their babies. The agency is investing $470 million to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity and filtering another $86 million to the Office of Minority Health for its work in areas with high rates of adverse maternal health outcomes and racial or ethnic disparities.

“Becoming a parent is among life’s greatest milestones, and pregnancy and childbirth should be a dignified and safe experience for all,” Becerra said.

Some of the recent HHS investments to strengthen maternal health include:

  • Restored access to Title X services nationwide
  • Invested nearly $350 million to expand the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program for vulnerable families
  • Launched a postpartum care challenge competition to identify new strategies

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) also took key actions to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity during Black Maternal Health Week, proposing a “Birthing-Friendly” hospital designation for hospitals that have demonstrated a commitment to maternal health and high-quality maternity care. The designation is currently based on a hospital’s attestation to the Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting Program’s Maternal Morbidity Structural Measure, but CMS said it intends to expand eligibility criteria in the future.

Additionally, CMS is expanding Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage for 12 months after pregnancy into Louisiana, Virginia, New Jersey, and Illinois and working with an additional 11 states and the District of Columbia to further extend coverage.

“It is on all of us to ensure that no person’s race ever determines their health outcomes and that every person preparing to give birth is treated with dignity, safety, and respect in our healthcare system,” President Joe Biden said.