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Last Chance for Texas Lege to Address Maternal Mortality

Contributor: 
Adriana Kohler

Heading into the current Texas legislative session, one of the most pressing issues facing state lawmakers was the disturbing spike in pregnancy-related deaths.

If you picked up USA Today, you saw the headline, “Texas' maternal death rates top most industrialized countries.”

If you flipped on CNN, you saw the story, “Maternal deaths fall across globe but rise in US, doubling in Texas.”

And if you read the Houston Chronicle and other outlets, you learned that the disturbing rise in maternal mortality includes Texas women from all backgrounds, but it particularly threatens Black women.

While state legislators and others lamented the tragic statistics, the question was whether they were willing to do anything about it.

So far this session, legislators have passed up some key opportunities to support healthy pregnancies, improve birth outcomes, and save women’s lives. For instance, they could have extended Medicaid to cover a new mom for a full year after she gives birth, but instead Texas will continue to kick women off of Medicaid two months after they give birth.

Last Friday, the Texas House could have passed two modest but meaningful bills to address the crisis. However, on the same day that Texans were making Mother’s Day brunch reservations, a small group of House members blocked those bills along with about 100 other bills considered noncontroversial.

But, with just a few days left in the legislative session, there’s still a chance for legislators to make some progress. Here’s what to watch:

1. This week the Senate Health and Human Services Committee has a chance to approve HB 2466 by Rep. Sarah Davis, a bill to give more new moms the option of getting screened for postpartum depression, a key step towards getting treatment and getting healthy. Specifically, the legislation would provide more moms with the option to be screened for postpartum depression during their baby’s check up. The bill is critical to the healthy development of babies, and can help reduce suicide among new moms, one of the leading causes of maternal mortality.

2. Today the House Public Health Committee is hearing two bills to address maternal mortality. SB 1929 by Senator Lois Kolkhorst would take important steps to study pregnancy-related deaths and evaluate options to address the crisis. SB 1599 by Senator Borris Miles would promote best practices for reporting and investigating pregnancy-related deaths. By strengthening efforts to understand and reduce maternal mortality and pregnancy complications, state leaders can help support moms and babies across the state. 

3. Additionally, the Legislature is finalizing a state budget that could jeopardize Medicaid, a critical source of health care for pregnant women in Texas. Medicaid covers over half of births in Texas and plays a key role in providing prenatal care that keeps moms and babies healthy. The proposed budget significantly underfunds Medicaid. If legislators go through with plans to phase out the state’s business tax without a plan to replace the revenue it provides, Medicaid could be in trouble two years from now. If Congress goes through with plans to radically reshape Medicaid and make deep cuts as part of its Obamacare repeal bill, Texas Medicaid – and the pregnant women who rely on it – would be in further trouble.

Keep an eye out the next couple days to see if the Legislature takes a stand to begin addressing the maternal mortality crisis in our state.