U.S. Senator Tina Smith Leads Bipartisan Effort to Improve Access to Rural Health Care for New and Expecting Moms

WASHINGTON, D.C. [07/31/19]–Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) introduced a bipartisan bill that would help ensure that new and expecting moms living in rural communities get the care they need.

Sen. Smith—a member of the Senate Health Committee—said that this is especially a problem in rural areas across Minnesota and the country. Approximately a third of Minnesota’s rural counties don’t have a hospital where women can give birth, and more than half of rural counties nationwide lack hospitals with labor and birthing services. 

Sen. Smith also noted that the disparity in access to care and worse health outcomes disproportionally affects women of color. Rural counties with more black residents are at greater risk of losing their labor and delivery services.

“New and expecting moms should be able to access quality health care no matter where they live. But right now too many women in rural areas don’t have a nearby hospital with birthing services,” said Sen. Smith. “Some people are driving hours—even in dangerous conditions like Minnesota blizzards—just to get to a hospital. We should support moms during this critical time in their lives by fixing this problem.”

“There continues to be barriers in understanding the problems associated with high rates of maternal mortality in rural Alaska. Studies have shown babies of mothers who have to travel more than an hour to give birth are more likely to require intensive care or die in the first year of their life. This is a startling statistic for a state like Alaska where more than 80% of our communities are not connected by the road system,” said Sen. Murkowski.“As one of the most developed nations in the world, these rates are unacceptable. Continuing on my previous efforts to address maternal mortality, I’m proud to help lead this comprehensive bill which aims to improve data collection, increase funding for grants, expand telehealth resources, and broaden training opportunities for healthcare professionals.”

 “As I’ve traveled around Alabama to hear directly from women and health care providers about how we can improve maternal health outcomes in the state, they have consistently raised concerns about the shortages of doctors and hospitals in rural areas. This legislation provides real solutions to expanding care through telehealth grants and other programs to increase the number of health care providers in rural areas, and takes important steps to address our unacceptable rate of maternal mortality in this country,” said Sen. Jones. 

“Unfortunately, it has become clear that new and expecting mothers living in rural and remote areas in West Virginia and across the country are lacking access to important health care services,” Sen. Capito said. “My colleagues and I realize the importance of addressing this issue, which is why we have introduced this legislation that will strengthen our efforts to protect the health and wellbeing of these mothers and their children. I’m proud to support this bill and will continue my efforts to address maternal mortality and its causes.”

“A woman’s access to quality, comprehensive care before, during and after pregnancy should not depend on her proximity to a major metropolitan area,” stated March of Dimes President and CEO Stacey D. Stewart. “We owe it to our nation’s mothers and infants to ensure that pregnant women living in rural areas receive the care necessary for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. In 2018, March of Dimes released a nationwide report on maternity care deserts that found approximately 4 million women live in rural counties with no hospital offering obstetric care and no obstetric providers.  We thank Senator Smith and Senator Murkowski for introducing the Rural MOMS Act to address the challenges experienced by pregnant women in rural areas to promote healthy moms and strong babies”

The Rural MOMS Act would:  

  • Improve Rural Maternal and Obstetric Care Data by directing the CDC to coordinate efforts with respect to maternal mortality and morbidity, to report on women’s health conditions according to sociocultural and geographic contexts, and to emphasize research on pregnancy-related deaths.
  • Award New Rural Obstetric Network Grants to establish regional innovation networks to improve maternal mortality and morbidity as well as birth outcomes.
  • Expand Existing Federal Telehealth Grant Programs to include birth and postpartum services as part of telehealth networks and to allow federal funding to be used for ultrasound machines, fetal monitoring equipment, and other pregnancy-related technology.
  • Establish a New Rural Maternal and Obstetric Care Training Demonstration to support training for family medicine physicians, obstetricians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, midwives, doulas, and other professionals to provide maternal care services in rural community-based settings.
  • Report on Maternal Care in Rural Areas to identify the locations of gaps in maternity care, disparities in maternal health in rural areas by race and ethnicity, recommendations to standardize data collection on maternal mortality and morbidity, and activities to improve maternal care in rural areas.

This legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).

The Rural MOMS Act is endorsed by: Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs; Every Mother Counts; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; National Birth Equity Collaborative; March of Dimes; Nurse-Family Partnership; and the National Rural Health Association.

You can read a summary of the bill here.

You can also read a section by section of the bill here.