Kamala Harris photo

Remarks by the Vice President at the Maternal Day of Action Summit

December 07, 2021

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everyone. Good morning. It is an honor to welcome all of you to this first-ever White House Day of Action on maternal health.

And I want to thank everyone gathered today -- the members of our Cabinet, including Secretary Xavier Becerra and CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure.

And I want to thank the members of Congress, the state and local policymakers, the business leaders, the nonprofit leaders, the medical professionals, the community organizers, the patient advocates -- all of you. Thank you for your leadership and your tireless work. And thank you for your partnership and your commitment to take bold action to improve maternal health.

This challenge is urgent and it is important, and it will take all of us.

And to put it simply, here's how I feel about this: In the United States of America, in the 21st century, being pregnant and giving birth should not carry such great risk.

But the truth is women in our nation -- and this is a hard truth -- women in our nation are dying. Before, during, and after childbirth, women in our nation are dying at a higher rate than any other developed nation in our world.

And we know that, for some women, the risk is much higher. When we know that, we should do something about it. When we know that, today, Black women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, we should do something about that.

When we know that Native American women are more than twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, we got to do something about that.

When women who live in rural America, which has many maternal care deserts -- meaning there are no maternal care facilities -- and when we know that women in rural America, for that and other reasons, are about 60 percent more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, we need to do something about that.

And think about it: Regardless of income level, regardless of education level, Black women, Native women, women who live in rural areas are more likely to die or be left scared or scarred from an experience that should be safe and should be a joyful one.

And we know a primary reason why this is true: systemic inequities. Those differences in how people are treated, based on who they are. And they create significant disparities in our healthcare system.

And when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, these systemic inequities can be a matter of life and death.

So, let us all say unequivocally: Maternal mortality and morbidity is a serious crisis and one that endangers both public health and economic growth, which means everyone is impacted by it. Because just think about it: Mothers are the backbone of our economy, and their children are the future of our economy.

We know that when women do not get the healthcare they need, families suffer, communities suffer, and our nation suffers.

In fact, one estimate suggests that the direct and indirect cost of poor maternal healthcare could total more than $30 billion -- $30 billion -- in a single year.

By the same measure, we know that when we invest in women's health, when we invest in maternal health, economic productivity increases and socioeconomic outcomes improve.

It is clear: A healthy economy requires healthy mothers and healthy babies. I will repeat that: A healthy economy requires healthy mothers and healthy babies.

And that is why, today, on behalf of our administration, I am issuing a nationwide Call to Action to both the public and the private sector.

Through this Call to Action, federal agencies, businesses, and non-profits will join together and will work together to solve this crisis.

So, today, to kick off this effort, our Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid are launching a new initiative to designate birthing-friendly hospitals.

So, this is a brand-new designation and the first designation that rates a hospital based on the quality of its maternal healthcare.

In addition, more than 20 companies and non-profits have pledged to invest more than $20 million in maternal health efforts domestically and more than $150 million globally.

They have pledged to invest in remote-care monitors for rural communities, to invest in innovative care models for the postpartum period, to invest in education programs for maternal health providers, and so much more.

And we will build on these actions in the coming weeks and months.

Now, I know we can all agree -- we should all agree -- that action is long overdue. We have all heard the stories -- and some here have lived the stories -- stories of women who experienced pain, only to be ignored. Stories of women who experienced post-partum depression, only to be dismissed. Stories of women who had to be put on life support or receive a blood transfusion after blood transfusion, and could not hold

their newborn baby.

These stories should compel all of us to take on this crisis, to change the systems, and to challenge the status quo that has created this crisis.

Now, many of you know this has been a big part of my life's work. When I was Attorney General of California, I established the Bureau of Children's Justice to prioritize the needs of our children and their parents and to mitigate against adverse childhood experiences.

The point for me has always been clear: What affects the children of our communities affects all of us.

As a United State senator, I crafted one of the first bills In the history of the United States Senate to target racial disparities in maternal mortality and to take on the challenge of dealing with implicit bias in our healthcare delivery system.

Together with Congresswoman Alma Adams, who is here with us today, I introduced the Maternal CARE Act. Together with Congresswoman Adams and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, I also introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act -- a comprehensive bill designed to improve maternal nutrition, to expand affordable housing, and to extend our maternal health workforce to include more doulas and midwives. And for so many women, let's note doulas are literally a lifeline.

And so, we must support all these healthcare professionals.

And, finally, with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, I introduced the Uterine Fibroid Research and Education Act -- legislation that would address many of the biggest issues that affect so many women, the underlying conditions that contribute to maternal mortality: uterine fibroids. And this is especially of concern for Black women who are more likely to be hospitalized as a result of that condition.

So, each of these bills form the basis for the historic investment in our maternal healthcare included in our Build Back Better Act.

Our Build Back Better Act will grow and diversify the perinatal nursing and doula workforce, support the work of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. It will promote health equity by taking action, from increasing funding for maternal mental health to investing in maternal health research at minority-serving institutions.

So here's but an example of what our Build Back Better Act will do:

So, currently, in most state Medicaid programs, they only provide for 60 days of postpartum coverage for women. Our law will require state Medicaid and CHIP programs to provide a full year of coverage after a woman has given birth.

Now, what does this mean? It means a full year of coverage for pelvic exams and vaccinations, for postpartum depression, screening, and regular check-ups.

According to a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services, this would cover 720,000 more people every year.

HHS has also put out new guidance today to help states implement the extension.

This action will save lives and it will change lives.

Our Build Back Better Act represents the single-largest investment to address maternal mortality and morbidity in our nation, ever. The House passed this bill just before Thanksgiving, and the President and I are confident that the Senate will soon do the same.

So, as I said from the start, in the United States of America, we must do everything we can to protect and to strengthen both maternal health and reproductive health.

This is about the rights of women. This is about the future of our nation. And this will take all of us. And the actions we announced today are just the beginning.

In April, here at the White House, I invited women who have experienced, personally and deeply, the tragedy of maternal mortality.

Their stories were different, but they described a common feeling, a terrible feeling: the feeling of not being heard.

On this Day of Action, may the women of our nation know: I hear you. We hear you. And we are here to take action.

Thank you again. May God bless you, and may God bless America. Thank you.

Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President at the Maternal Day of Action Summit Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/353682

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