03.30.17

U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin and Lisa Murkowski Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Maternal Care Access in Rural and Underserved Areas

The legislation ensures women have access to timely, high quality maternity care by identifying provider shortage areas in rural and underserved communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today introduced the Improving Access to Maternity Care Act to reduce maternity care shortages by identifying areas lacking maternal health professionals and help incentivize providers to practice in these underserved, often rural areas. Babies born to mothers who received no prenatal care are three times more likely to be low birth weight, and are five times more likely to die than babies whose mothers received care. According to recent estimates from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), approximately 26 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties do not have any ob-gyns, and there are roughly 550 ob-gyn physicians serving more than 2.5 million women in Wisconsin.

“Too many communities around Wisconsin are still facing a shortage of qualified, maternity care professionals and services,” said Senator Baldwin. “This legislation will target resources so providers can deliver the care that expecting mothers in Wisconsin so desperately need no matter where they live. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan effort to ensure that healthier pregnancies lead to healthier babies.”

“I am happy to support this bill that directs much-needed maternity care resources to where they are most needed in rural Alaska. So many parts of our state lack any form of access to maternity care, a service that some parts of the U.S. take for granted,” said Senator Murkowski. “This legislation is a critical step to reduce Alaska’s devastatingly high rate of FASD, and lead to healthier pregnancies and ultimately healthier Alaskan families.”

“There is a significant shortage of ob-gyns and other maternity care professionals in the United States, which has a sizeable impact on women’s ability, particularly in underserved areas, to access timely prenatal care, as well as labor and delivery services. Every year, a quarter of the births in this country are to women who did not receive adequate prenatal care. This can result in serious medical complications for mom and baby, and thousands of dollars of medical care for premature or low birth-weight babies during their first year of life. We are grateful for the efforts of Sens. Baldwin and Murkowski in addressing this serious public health concern through this legislation. We believe this is the first step in alleviating the significant pressures communities and health systems currently face and will help women access the quality maternity care they need,” said Thomas, M. Gellhaus, MD, FACOG, President of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

“It’s a travesty that in about half of US counties there is no CNM/CM nor an OB/GYN, yet millions of women live in these areas," said Lisa Kane Low, CNM, PhD, FACNM, FAAN, American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) Board President. “Shortages of maternity care providers can result in long waiting times for appointments and/or long travel times to prenatal care and birthing sites, resulting in inadequate care for women. This legislation will aid in addressing these concerns.”

“The Wisconsin Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists enthusiastically supports Senator Tammy Baldwin’s 2017 Improving Access to Maternity Care Act. Approximately 1/3 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties do not have any OB/GYNs. In many areas, women must drive 30 to 60 minutes to a maternity center. Mothers who receive no prenatal care are more likely to die or have babies with low birth weight or neonatal death. With no additional cost, this legislation allows the current National Health Service Corps to designate shortage areas for maternity care and place OB/GYNs where they are most needed,” said Kathy D. Hartke, MD, FACOG, Chair of the Wisconsin Section ACOG.

“To support healthy Wisconsin families in an ever-changing health care environment, it is essential to ensure that all women have equitable access to quality maternity and perinatal care. WAPC’s mission is to improve perinatal outcomes and applauds Senator Baldwin for this bipartisan bill that will help ensure that more women’s health professionals are located near and accessible to women regardless of where they live,” said Lisa Lokken, MSN, RNC-OB, C-EFM, CNS-BC, President of the Wisconsin Association for Perinatal Care.

“It is understood that access to prenatal care is an integral factor in improving perinatal outcomes and ensuring the best possible beginning for our nation’s children. Yet, we are challenged by significant shortages of CNMs throughout the United States, who focus on woman-centered care across the lifespan. The Wisconsin Affiliate of the American College of Nurse Midwives is in full support of the Improving Access to Maternity Care Act sponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin and Lisa Murkowski. This will afford greater opportunities to attract and retain talented CNMs and OB/GYN physicians in underserved areas,” said Elizabeth Hill-Karbowski, PhD, CNM and Leona VandeVusse, PhD, CNM, FACNM, Wisconsin Affiliate of the American College of Nurse Midwives.

The Improving Access to Maternity Care Act helps address these workforce challenges by directing the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to identify maternity care shortage areas that may be used by the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). The NHSC is critical to filling workforce shortages in underserved areas, with over 9,200 Corps clinicians delivering services to 9.7 million people across the US. Currently ob-gyns are recognized under the primary care shortage designation, which fails to adequately address shortages in maternity care. By identifying maternity care needs within existing shortage areas, the United States can begin to fill this gap. This legislation is critical to facilitating a better understanding of where the serious maternity care shortages are located and to subsequently direct health care providers to those communities.

The Improving Access to Maternity Care Act is endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM).

Learn more about the bipartisan Improving Access to Maternity Care Act here.

Text of the legislation is available here.