Murkowski Works to Improve Access to Rural Health Care For New & Expecting Moms

Introduces Bill To Provide Training For Medical Professionals, Build Upon New and Existing Innovations to End Rural Disparities in Maternal Health

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) recently joined U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) in introducing bipartisan legislation that would help ensure that new and expecting moms living in rural communities get the care they need.

More than half of rural counties nationwide lack hospitals with labor and birthing services, and the disparity in access to care and worse health outcomes disproportionally affects people of color. Rural counties with more Black residents are at greater risk of losing their labor and delivery services.

“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. 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 health care quality and access to care. Every expecting mother deserves the best care available for herself and her baby, regardless of where they live,” said Senator Murkowski.

“No matter where new and expecting moms live, they should be able to access quality health care. But right now, we know that too many women in rural areas don’t have a nearby hospital with birthing services,” said Senator Smith. “I’ve heard from Minnesotans who have to drive hours, sometimes in dangerous conditions like Minnesota blizzards, just to get to care at a hospital. In order to support all moms during this critical time in their families’ lives, we have to fix this problem.”

“The Senate Rural MOMS Act is an incredibly important piece of legislation for Alaska and rest of the United States.  Investment in maternal health is crucially important to women’s health and has far reaching impacts on child, family, and community health.  As a pediatrician, prenatal health is so important to me because healthy babies start with healthy pregnancies.  Additionally, supporting development of higher level obstetric care in rural Alaska will mean that pregnant women may not have to travel for many days for necessary appointments.  This will result in less time away from their other children, family, jobs, and community,” said Marah Gotcsik, MD.

"Our state epitomizes the challenges of delivering high quality health care across vast geographic expanses, but we care about the health of every one of our mothers no matter where they make their homes.  The Rural MOMS Act seeks to understand the specific challenges of rural maternal care so programs and incentives are well designed to meet them effectively and with good stewardship.  Creative strategies that leverage tools like telehealth and strategic partnerships are a good investment in the reduction of disparities and healthy outcomes for all Alaska families,” said Dr. Lily Lou, past President of the Alaska Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The Rural MOMS Act—first introduced by Senators Smith and Murkowski in 2019–would: 

  • Improve rural maternal and obstetric care data by directing the CDC to coordinate efforts with respect to 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;
  • Award new rural obstetric network grants to establish regional innovation networks to improve maternal mortality and morbidity as well as birth outcomes;
  • Expand existing federal telehealth grant programs to include birth and postpartum services as part of telehealth networks and to allow federal funding to be used for ultrasound machines, fetal monitoring equipment, and other pregnancy-related technology;
  • Establish a new rural maternal and obstetric care training demonstration 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; and
  • Report on maternal care in rural areas to identify the locations of gaps in maternity care, disparities in maternal health in rural areas by race and ethnicity, recommendations to standardize data collection on maternal mortality and morbidity, and activities to improve maternal care in rural areas.

This legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM).

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

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