Crist, Demings urge Congress to pass maternal health legislation

Nine Florida Democrats call on House and Senate leadership to pass legislation to improve health care for new mothers.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, left, the St. Petersburg Democrat running for Florida governor. U.S. Rep Val Demings, right, the Orlando Democrat running for U.S. Senate.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, left, the St. Petersburg Democrat running for Florida governor. U.S. Rep Val Demings, right, the Orlando Democrat running for U.S. Senate. [ Miami Herald | Tribune ]
Published June 18, 2021|Updated June 18, 2021

U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist and Val Demings and 165 of their colleagues signed a letter Thursday pushing House and Senate leaders to prioritize the national maternal health crisis.

The letter — addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — urged leadership to fulfill President Biden’s pledge to invest $3 billion in maternal health by passing the American Families Plan, the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act (H.R. 959) and offer 12 months of postpartum Medicaid coverage for mothers in each state.

“The maternal mortality rate for Black mothers is 3-4 times higher than the rate for white mothers — a deeply troubling disparity that demands immediate action,” said Crist in a statement. “We need to get serious about passing the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act to reduce this disparity and provide the resources and quality healthcare Black mothers have too long be denied.”

Both Crist and Demings are running for higher offices in 2022. Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, recently announced that he’ll give up his seat in Florida’s 13th Congressional District to make another run for governor. Demings, an Orlando Democrat, will challenge U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

The letter notes that the United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality compared to other high-income countries — and that rate is on the rise.

Florida’s maternal death rate has improved in recent years, according to experts. Still, racial disparities persist.

There were 36 women who died statewide from pregnancy-related complications in 2018, and about half were Black, according to data from Florida’s Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review.

Related: Medicaid boost would give a year of postpartum care to Florida moms

The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 is a series of 12 bills aimed at saving mothers’ lives and reducing the racial gaps in maternal health outcomes. The individual bills address a variety of health aspects including social determinants of health, such as transportation and housing, expansion of telehealth in underserved areas, and improved data collection.

Earlier this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill (SB 2518) extending Medicaid coverage to new mothers for a year after they give birth, instead of the previous allowance of 60 days. That $240 million endeavor garnered bipartisan support in Legislature, and the state will fund less than half that.

The letter signed by Crist, Demings and seven other Florida Democrats said that passing a similar Medicaid extension for new mothers nationally “will allow new mothers to access the care they need and deserve for the full postpartum period.”

The governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature still oppose expanding Medicaid in Florida under the Affordable Care Act. Advocates say expansion would give 800,000 more Floridians access to healthcare, and the federal government would pay for the first two year of the program under the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg provides partial funding for Times stories on equity. It does not select story topics and is not involved in the reporting or editing.