Congress opens investigation of mothers' childbirth deaths, injuries | News Coverage from USA

Congress opens investigation of mothers’ childbirth deaths, injuries

A congressional oversight committee, citing USA TODAY’s ongoing investigation, is seeking briefings from federal agencies to find out what they are doing to address the “alarming” rate of mothers dying or suffering severe injuries related to pregnancy and childbirth.

The bipartisan leadership of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday sent letters to six federal health agencies seeking briefings on what actions they currently are taking, or could be taking to improve data collection, reporting and transparency on maternal health issues and to identify ways to measure patient safety.

The letters note: “A USA TODAY investigation found that thousands of women suffer life-altering injuries or die during childbirth in the United States because hospitals and medical workers do not follow proven safety practices.”

More: Hospitals know how to protect mothers. They just aren’t doing it.

More: Hospitals blame moms when childbirth goes wrong. Secret data suggest it’s not that simple.

More: “I am one of the 50,000.” Women tell their stories of deadly deliveries

More: Childbirth safety requirements seek to protect pregnant, new mothers

The letters specifically request briefings about what federal programs could help improve the quality of maternal services in hospitals through use of nationally recommended safety protocols. And they want to know which federal health program will help address unconscious bias and cultural competency of health care workers that may be contributing to why some women are more likely to experience childbirth harms than others.

Every year, about 700 women in the US die and another 50,000 suffer severe injuries related to childbirth. Studies have found that more than half of mothers’ deaths and severe injuries could have been prevented or reduced with better medical care.

Black mothers are three to four times more likely than white women to die from childbirth and pregnancy related causes. Federal data also indicates that American Indian and Alaskan Native women also have higher rates of deaths and injuries, the letters point out.

The six federal health agencies receiving the letters were the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Indian Health Service, and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health.

“Maternal morbidity and mortality in the United States is a major public health concern,” the committee members said in their letter to the CDC. They noted that the rate of women experiencing serious childbirth complications in U.S.  hospitals rose 45% between 2006 and 2015. “These continued increases are distressing,” they wrote, noting rates of deaths have also been on the rise.

USA TODAY’s ongoing Deadly Deliveries investigation has focused on the lack of public data allowing mothers to know how often women at individual hospitals have severe childbirth complications or whether a maternity unit is routinely following key safety practices. Last month, USA TODAY published an analysis of usually secret hospital billing data revealing complication rates at nearly 1,000 hospital in 13 states.

More: Search childbirth complication rates at maternity hospitals

More: The secret number maternity hospitals don’t want you to know

The investigation noted that even though pregnancy and childbirth is the No. 2 reason for hospitalization in the country, the federal government allows hospitals to keep childbirth complication rates private. The federal Hospital Compare website currently has no measures related to childbirth safety for mothers while it mandates hospitals disclose rates of complications from hip and knee replacement surgeries and other types of hospital care.

In its letter to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which operates the Hospital Compare website and helps pay for nearly half of the births nationwide, the committee leaders said they are interested in exploring “additional efforts that may be underway to further improve reporting, data collection, and activities related to reducing maternal morbidity and mortality.”

The letters were signed by the committee’s Chairman U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., D-New Jersey and ranking Republican Greg Walden of Oregon; Health Subcommittee chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo, D-California and the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas; Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, and the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Brett Guthrie of Kentucky.

Read the full USA TODAY investigation at:



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