First Focus applauds the effort of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to shine a light on the crisis of maternal and infant mortality. The committee held a hearing yesterday that brought in views from health care providers, advocates, and a victim’s spouse—Mr. Charles Johnson IV, whose wife tragically passed away from the pregnancy of their second son.

It is clear that the United States has a significant problem on its hands. We are facing a health care crisis among African-American mothers, and, as the hearing highlighted, it is rooted in the past and current implicit bias in our society and health care system.

Multiple witnesses who addressed the committee argued for more states to create maternal mortality review committees (MMRC’s). According to testimony by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and others, MMRCs can play a pivotal role in reducing the rate of maternal and infant mortality. First Focus agrees that MMRCs can ultimately collect data and determine where the “administrative responsibilities lie.”

Another critical step that can help all pregnant women, but in particular African-American women, is the expansion of Medicaid. A National Institutes of Health (NIH) report released in April this year stated, “Because of the large proportion of maternal, infant, and child health care and preventive services funded by Medicaid, Medicaid expansion may be among the most important ways in which the ACA could improve maternal and child health indicators, such as the infant mortality rate.”

The NIH went on to say that the decline in infant mortality “in Medicaid expansion states was more than 50 percent greater than in non-Medicaid expansion states. Declines… [in mortality] were greatest in African American infants.”

Half of the states in the country reported that 50 percent or more of births were financed by Medicaid. However, the program goes beyond that. It covers development screenings, preventive care, and allows health care providers to detect problems sooner than later.

During yesterday’s hearing, Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, MD, Founder and President of the National Birth Equity Collaborative and Advisory Board Member of the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, spoke about what it meant for her state, Louisiana, to expand Medicaid, but also how the underlying cause of this issue continues to be a problem. According to Dr. Crear-Perry, “maternal mortality extends beyond the period of pregnancy or birth. Nine months of prenatal care cannot counter underlying social determinants of health inequities in housing, political participation, transportation, education, food, environmental conditions, and economic security; all of which have racism as their root cause. We have data that shows that a Black woman who initiates prenatal care in the first trimester has a worse outcome in birth than a white woman with late or no prenatal care.”

This is a problem that must be addressed immediately. First Focus urges the Department of Health and Human Services and Congress to do more, so we can prevent any more senseless deaths, and thanks the Energy and Commerce Committee for holding this vitally important hearing.