Reps. Axne, Newhouse Lead Legislation to Improve Maternal Health in Rural America

February 3, 2021
Press Release
The Rural MOMS Act invests in grants, technology, and training to address rural maternal health disparities

Today, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) and Rep. Dan Newhouse (WA-04) introduced bipartisan legislation to improve access to maternal health services for expecting and new mothers in rural communities. 

The Rural Maternal and Obstetric Modernization of Services Act, or Rural MOMS Act, would identify existing maternal health disparities, invest in training and technology to offer greater maternal health services, and take steps to address the maternal mortality rate. Currently, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation with an increasing maternal mortality rate; rural communities, including rural communities of color, experience reduced access to maternal health care and experience some of the highest rates of maternal mortality.

“Iowans looking to start a family shouldn’t face unnecessary barriers to care based solely on where they choose to live,” said Rep. Axne. “Faced with financial challenges, we’ve seen rural hospitals in Iowa close their labor and delivery units just to make ends meet. Expecting and new moms need accessible, quality maternal health care, but right now too many moms are forced to spend hours in the car driving to appointments to keep themselves and their baby healthy. I’m proud to lead legislation that will shine a light on these disparities, invest in our health care workforce, and improve access to maternal health care for families in rural Iowa.”

“The alarming maternal mortality rates among rural and minority women is persistent and tragic, but in the 21st century, it can and must be fixed,” said Rep. Newhouse. “From advancing and rewarding innovative data reporting efforts to expanding access to maternal telehealth services and providing training to better equip healthcare professionals to serve these women, this legislation takes concrete steps to address the root causes of this problem. Rural moms deserve the same standard of care as their urban counterparts, and this bill will make that a reality.”

The Rural MOMS Act invests in maternal health solutions by:

  • Creating Rural Obstetric Network Grants to fund improvement and innovation networks to strengthen maternal health in rural areas.
  • Expanding Federal Telehealth Grant Programs to offer birth and postpartum services through telehealth and allow federal funds to purchase pregnancy-related technology, like ultrasound machines.
  • Establishing Rural Maternal and Obstetric Care Training Demonstrations by offering grants to provide maternal health training to health care workers – such as OB/GYN residents, family practitioners, and nurse practitioners – in rural, community-based settings.
  • Improving Rural Maternal and Obstetric Care Data at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by coordinating work on maternal mortality and morbidity and reporting on women’s health outcomes by socioeconomic and geographic context. 
  • Ordering a Report on Maternal Care in Rural Areas to identify where gaps in maternal health care exist, bolster data collection on maternal mortality and morbidity, and provide recommendations to improve maternal care in rural communities.

The bill was also cosponsored by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Bob Latta (R-OH), Tom Cole (R-OK), Angie Craig (D-MN), Troy Balderson (R-OH), Joe Morelle (D-NY), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), and Ashley Hinson (R-IA).

“Comprehensive maternal health care is critically important for all pregnant individuals and especially those who experience disproportionate negative outcomes because they don’t live near a hospital,” said Maureen Phipps, MD, MPH, FACOG, CEO of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “With the introduction of the Rural MOMS Act, we move one step closer to ensuring that pregnant individuals will be able receive quality prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum care, no matter their zip code. Maternal health care in rural areas is rapidly disappearing across the United States, and we have learned that it doesn’t affect everyone equally. People of color are disproportionately affected. To address this, the Rural MOMS Act provides grants to connect patients with needed care, addresses inequities in birth outcomes among rural residents, expands telehealth services and provides training for health facilities without obstetric health units, among other measures. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is proud to support this bill and thanks Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cynthia Axne for their leadership in making sure moms across the country are able to access the care they need.”

Rural pregnant women and new mothers have significantly higher chances of dying from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth compared to women in urban areas.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the maternal mortality rate in rural areas was over 60% higher than the rate in large metropolitan areas.

Iowa ranks 49th in the nation for the number of practicing OB/GYNs. There are only 1.49 doctors per 10,000 women according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, with most doctors practicing in larger cities.