Murkowski’s bill supports rural healthcare for new, expectant mothers

With more than half of rural counties nationwide lacking hospitals with labor and birthing services, new and expecting moms living in such communities would receive much-needed health care under a bipartisan bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). 

“The significant disparities that exist in U.S. maternal mortality between urban and rural populations is particularly worrisome in Alaska as the majority of our communities are remote or isolated,” Sen. Murkowski said. “Every expecting mother deserves the best care available for herself and her baby, regardless of where they live.”

The Rural MOMS Act, S. 1491, which Sen. Murkowski cosponsored with bill sponsor U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) and fellow cosponsor U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), would amend the Public Health Service Act to improve obstetric care in rural areas, according to the congressional record bill summary. Sens. Murkowski and Smith also introduced the same-named S. 2373 in July 2019, but the bill stalled in committee.  

“I’m proud to reintroduce this bill with Senator Smith, which expands access to care for women in rural areas, provides grant funding to improve maternal outcomes, and invests in better data collection and telehealth services to improve healthcare quality and access to care,” said Sen. Murkowski.

If enacted, the reintroduced S. 1491 would direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to coordinate efforts regarding maternal mortality and morbidity, to report on women’s health conditions according to sociocultural and geographic contexts, and to emphasize research on pregnancy-related deaths, according to a bill summary provided by Sen. Murkowski’s office. 

Additionally, S. 1491 would award new rural obstetric network grants to establish regional innovation networks aimed at improving maternal mortality and morbidity and birth outcomes, and expand existing federal telehealth grant programs to include birth and postpartum services as part of telehealth networks, the summary says.

Among several other provisions, the bill also would establish a new rural maternal and obstetric care training demonstration program to support training for family medicine physicians, obstetricians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, midwives, doulas, and other professionals to provide maternal care services in rural community-based settings.

The legislation is endorsed by the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs, Every Mother Counts, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the National Birth Equity Collaborative, March of Dimes, the Nurse-Family Partnership, and the National Rural Health Association.