U.S. Senators Smith, Murkowski Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Improve Access to Rural Health Care for New & Expecting Moms

WASHINGTON, D.C. [5/5/21]–Today, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced bipartisan legislation that would help ensure that new and expecting moms living in rural communities get the care they need.

More than half of rural counties nationwide lack hospitals with labor and birthing services, and the disparity in access to care and worse health outcomes disproportionally affects people of color. Rural counties with more Black residents are at greater risk of losing their labor and delivery services.

“No matter where new and expecting moms live, they should be able to access quality health care. But right now, we know that too many women in rural areas don’t have a nearby hospital with birthing services,” said Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Health Committee. “I’ve heard from Minnesotans who have to drive hours, sometimes in dangerous conditions like Minnesota blizzards, just to get to care at a hospital. In order to support all moms during this critical time in their families’ lives, we have to fix this problem.”

“The significant disparities that exist in U.S. maternal mortality between urban and rural populations is particularly worrisome in Alaska as the majority of our communities are remote or isolated. I’m proud to reintroduce this bill with Senator Smith, which expands access to care for women in rural areas, provides grant funding to improve maternal outcomes, and invests in better data collection and telehealth services to improve health care quality and access to care. Every expecting mother deserves the best care available for herself and her baby, regardless of where they live,” said Sen. Murkowski.

“The paucity of maternal health care in rural areas is concerning,” said Maureen Phipps, MD, MPH, FACOG, CEO of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). “Not being able to access comprehensive health care is a critical factor impacting health outcomes. With the introduction of the Rural MOMS Act, we move one step closer to ensuring that every pregnant person will be able receive quality prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum care, no matter their zip code. The Rural MOMS Act provides grants to connect patients with needed care, addresses inequities in birth outcomes among rural residents, expands telehealth services and provides training for clinicians to practice in rural community-based settings, among other measures. ACOG is proud to endorse the reintroduction of this bill and thanks Senators Tina Smith and Lisa Murkowski for their leadership in making sure pregnant people across the country are able to access the care they need.”

“NRHA applauds Senator Tina Smith for her leadership in addressing the maternal mortality rate in rural America. Unfortunately, pregnant women and new mothers in rural America have a significantly higher chance of dying from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth than their urban counterparts. This critical legislation provides much needed investment in innovations in training and technology to offer greater maternal health and obstetric services in rural America,” said Alan Morgan, Chief Executive Officer of the National Rural Health Association.

“The National Birth Equity Collaborative applauds the reintroduction of the Rural MOMS Act! As an organization that creates solutions to optimize maternal and infant health, we know what’s needed: robust, inclusive legislation that centers the most marginalized, like rural women and pregnant people from the Frontier Area to the front porches of Mississippi and Montana. We are pleased that the Rural MOMS Act would offer grant funding to train medical residents and fellows on implicit bias while also reporting on the gaps in maternal health by race in rural communities with a particular focus on racial inequities for Black residents to address four-hundred years of systemic racism. We believe that this bifocal approach will help advance birth equity and enliven our vision that all Black mothers and babies thrive,” said Dr. Joia Crear Perry, Founder and President of the National Birth Equity Collaborative.

The Rural MOMS Act—first introduced by Sens. Smith and Murkowski in 2019–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; and

· 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. Angus King (I-Maine), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.).

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