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Sens. Katie Britt, Laphonza Butler introduce bill to fund maternal mortality research

The legislation would ensure consistent funding for research on maternal care and mortality.

Hearings to examine how the Special Diabetes Program is creating hope for those living with type 1 diabetes. (Official U.S. Senate photo by Rebecca Hammel)
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U.S. Senators Katie Britt, R-Ala., and Laphonza Butler, D-Calif., today introduced the NIH IMPROVE Act, the Senate Companion to Representative Lauren Underwood’s, D-IL-14, and Brian Fitzpatrick’s, R-PA-01, House bill, which would ensure consistent funding for research on maternal care and mortality.

In 2019, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the Implementing a Maternal Health and Pregnancy Outcomes Vision for Everyone (IMPROVE) Initiative. The IMPROVE Initiative supports research to reduce preventable causes of maternal deaths and improve health care for women before, during, and after pregnancy.

However, this critical research program lacks a sustained funding source, threatening research outcomes and conclusions. The NIH IMPROVE Act would authorize consistent funding for this existing program for the next seven years, providing NIH the support and resources to pursue research into the root causes of America’s maternal mortality crisis.

“This bipartisan legislation will support targeted funding for critical research to improve health outcomes for women throughout their pregnancy journey,” said Senator Britt. “I’m proud to fight for moms and women across Alabama and America.”

“There are huge gaps in maternal care, especially across racial and socioeconomic lines, and the NIH IMPROVE Act will sustain much-needed research to better understand how we can protect mothers and end preventable maternal deaths,” said Senator Butler.

The NIH IMPROVE Act would:

  • Authorize $53.4 million annually for seven years to carry out the IMPROVE Initiative and support research on potential causes of maternal mortality and severe morbidity.
  • Approve research that would target disparities associated with maternal mortality and severe morbidity, and aim to reduce preventable causes of maternal deaths.
  • Build an evidence base for improved care and outcomes in underserved maternal care deserts. 

The full text of the bill can be viewed here.

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In Alabama, over a third of its 67 counties are classified as “maternity care deserts,” areas without access to birthing facilities or maternity care providers. Last fall, three Alabama hospitals announced closures of their labor and delivery departments, leaving both Shelby and Monroe counties without labor and delivery services. Additionally, Alabama has the highest maternal mortality rate in the nation at 64.63 deaths per 100,000 births.

Senator Britt has made health care, including maternal care, a top legislative priority during her first 15 months in office. This week, Senator Britt during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing questioned U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra on the President’s proposed FY25 budget for HHS. Specifically, she highlighted the United States’ maternal mortality crisis, and pressed Secretary Becerra on the budget proposal’s reduction in funding to the Title V Maternal and Child Health Services Grants for states, which would negatively impact rural communities in providing quality care to mothers and children.

Recently, Senator Britt joined Senators Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Tina Smith, D-Minn., in introducing the Rural Obstetrics Readiness Act. This legislation would expand access to maternal care by offering support for rural health care facilities and doctors to provide urgent obstetric care.

Senator Britt also reintroduced the Access to Breast Cancer Diagnosis (ABCD) Act with Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in September 2023. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation would eliminate copays and other out-of-pocket expenses for breast cancer diagnostic tests, making them more accessible and affordable.

Last December, Senator Britt joined a bipartisan group of 59 of her Senate colleagues in reintroducing the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2023. This bill would expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare, make permanent COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities, improve health outcomes, and make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, especially important in rural areas.

Additionally, she cosponsored two pieces of bipartisan legislation to help all Alabamians access insulin. They include the Affordable Insulin Now Act of 2023, which would cap the price of insulin for all patients, including those who are uninsured, at $35 for a 30-day supply; and the Improving Needed Safeguards for Users of Lifesaving Insulin Now (INSULIN) Act of 2023, which would comprehensively address the skyrocketing costs of insulin, removing barriers to care and making it more accessible for millions more Americans.

Senator Britt, along with Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., also introduced the Youth Mental Health Research Act to create a national Youth Mental Health Research Initiative to guide long-term mental health care efforts, better target preventive interventions for those at risk of developing mental health challenges, and improve treatments for children.

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Last month, Senator Britt secured significant funding in the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act to modernize and upgrade medical equipment and rural health services in Alabama. This funding includes $2.6 million for Helen Keller Hospital to replace generators and help more Alabamians receive excellent, high-quality medical care; over $3.9 million for the City of Talladega to support rural emergency services; $2 million for needed medical equipment at Atmore Community Hospital; and $2.5 million in directed spending for the Huntsville Hospital Health System to purchase additional ambulances to serve counties across North Alabama.

The Alabama Political Reporter is a daily political news site devoted to Alabama politics. We provide accurate, reliable coverage of policy, elections and government.

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