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U.S. Is “Most Dangerous” Place in Developed World to Give Birth

by Countable | 7.26.18

The story

The U.S. is the “most dangerous place to give birth in the developed world,” according to a USA Today investigation.

Every year in the U.S., more than 50,000 mothers are severely injured during or after childbirth and 700 die.

USA Today’s investigation found that women are dying and suffering life-altering injuries during childbirth because hospitals aren't following well-established safety measures.

Context

The USA Today investigation, along with various other independent studies, shows that the maternal death rate in the U.S. has been rising steadily, and that the U.S. now has the highest rate in the developed world.

California presents a notable exception. According to the USA Today investigation, hospitals and safety advocates there have instituted practices that have cut the state’s maternal death rate in half.

Possible cause

The USA Today investigation posits one explanatory factor:

“[R]egulators and oversight groups that could require hospitals to do more have not...
“The lack of action by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to protect mothers stands in sharp contrast to its more aggressive approach to trying to improve care for elderly Medicare patients.
“As a condition of getting Medicare payments, the federal agency requires hospitals to disclose information such as complication rates for hip and knee surgeries and whether heart attack patients got prompt care. All of that information is posted online.
“That same agency helps pay for about half of the nation’s nearly 4 million births each year via Medicaid, and it could set similar rules about childbirth complications.”

Disparity

The most notable disparity in mortality rates in the U.S. is defined by race: Black women die at a rate that ranges from three to four times the rate of their white counterparts — 42 deaths per 100,000 live births among black women versus 12 deaths per 100,000 live births among white women as of 2010.

American Indian and Alaskan Native women also fare worse than white women with approximately twice as many pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births. 

Further reading

USA Today’s full investigation includes a state-by-state ranking of maternal harms and deaths as well as a guide with tips for how patients can advocate for themselves during childbirth.

What do you think?

Should regulators strengthen their disclosure requirements of hospitals in order to get Medicare payments? Are other regulatory remedies in order? Why or why not? Hit Take Action to tell your reps what you think, then share your thoughts below.

—Sara E. Murphy

(Photo Credit: iStock.com / laflor)

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