Secretary Becerra Delivers Remarks at White House Maternal Health Call to Action Summit


White House Maternal Health Day of Action
White House


As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you to Vice President Harris and the White House for hosting us, and for your critical leadership over the past year. And thank you to all the advocates gathered here today for your work to end the crisis of maternal mortality.

Every parent in this room knows the joys of those first few months after your child is born. Celebrating that first laugh or smile. Soothing that first cough or cry.

Every parent deserves those moments. But here in the U.S., far too many never get to experience them.

Our nation's maternal mortality rate is higher than most other developed and high-income countries.

In the U.S., 52 percent of pregnancy-related deaths happen after childbirth, during the first post-partum year, and a third of deaths happen between one week and one year postpartum.

That's what happened to HHS's own Shalon Irving, an epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

Shalon died a few weeks after giving birth to her daughter in 2017.

"This question will forever haunt me," her mother said. "How did my daughter end up a statistic?" No parent should ever have to ask that question. And no one should have to die after birth in order for us to take action.

This issue is personal for me. My wife Carolina is an obstetrician who has devoted her career to improving pregnancy care and outcomes. And she always reminds me of her favorite motto: "Willing is not enough; we must do."

At HHS, we're more than willing to take on this issue. We're doing it every single day.

In September, we announced nearly $350 million in awards to every state across the nation to support safe pregnancies and healthy babies.

We've approved Medicaid waivers to extend postpartum coverage in Illinois, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, and Virginia.

We know how critical this coverage can be. In fact, our Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) is releasing a new report today that shows exactly that.

This study finds that if all states adopt 12 months of postpartum coverage, 100 percent of those enrolled in Medicaid during pregnancy would be eligible for 12 months of postpartum Medicaid, compared to 52 percent under current law.

This represents approximately 720,000 people annually with expanded postpartum coverage—including over 220,000 Latino and over 130,000 Black beneficiaries. That, my friends, is a game-changer.

And in a few moments, Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure will be detailing new actions by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) to tackle this issue, including critical guidance for states on implementing postpartum coverage.

Of course, this is just the beginning. President Biden and Vice President Harris have made maternal health and equity a priority—especially among Black mothers.

That's why the Build Back Better plan makes significant investments to reduce racial disparities and improve maternal health outcomes.

But this is not a challenge that stops at our borders.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, every year in low- and middle-income countries more than 25 million women received inadequate or no antenatal care.

Just as we invest in improving maternal and child health here in the U.S., we need to continue the important work of partnering with Ministries of Health around the world to ensure that all people have access to quality health care.

Before Shalon Irving passed away, she wrote on her Twitter profile, "I see inequity wherever it exists. Call it by name and work to eliminate it."

Today, we're heeding Shalon's call and working to eliminate inequity in maternal health wherever we see it.

We still have work to do. But together, I know we can make progress and save lives.

Thank you.

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