Director of Policy and Government Affairs
We recently talked with U.S. Rep Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Maternity Care, member of the House Appropriations Committee’s Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Subcommittee, and a 2009 AMCHP Legislative Champion Award winner.
As a Member of Congress, you’ve made it a priority to address maternal and child health. Can you tell us your motivation?
Roybal-Allard: As a mother and a grandmother, I’ve been interested in children’s health throughout my adult life. In Congress, I’ve been fighting to change the tragic fact that America ranks far behind almost all other developed countries in birth outcomes for both mothers and babies, even though America spends significantly more per capita on childbirth than any other industrialized nation.
I started the Maternity Care Caucus with my colleague Jaime Herrera Beutler [R-Wash.] to raise awareness among our congressional colleagues about the status of childbirth in this country and the challenges facing the U.S. maternity care system. Our goal is to ensure that our communities, our states, and our federal government all make a priority of ensuring that every mother and child has maternity care that is evidence-based, high-quality, and cost-effective.
My concern about maternal and child health led me to write, pass, and reauthorize legislation to test newborns for treatable disorders that could cause lifelong disability or death if we don’t detect them early. I also worked to include language in the 2000 Children’s Health Act to authorize folic acid education programs so women would understand the importance of taking a folic acid supplement to protect their babies from neural tube defects. In addition, I worked to get corn masa fortified with folate so that Latina mothers’ babies would have the same protections against neural tube defects as non-Hispanic women who consume more fortified grains.
When I go to the supermarket and see folic acid labels on corn masa, it reminds me that our government has the capacity to do immense good if we can push it to do so. I’m going to keep pushing for policies to improve maternal and child health, and I’m fortunate to be helped in that work by a nurse midwife who’s been my health policy advisor for 14 years.
As we begin the new Congress, what are the prospects for health care legislation, and, in particular, health care with particular impacts on MCH (maternal and child health) populations?
Roybal-Allard: In recent years, we have witnessed policy changes that I believe have weakened the previous gains made under the Affordable Care Act [ACA]. Congress must strengthen the coverage expansions that started with the ACA and explore ways to reduce costs in our health care system.
As the federal government works on health care legislation, we cannot ignore the importance of protecting and strengthening the quality and value of maternity and newborn care. After all, maternity and newborn care constitutes the largest category of hospital payouts for most commercial insurers and state Medicaid programs, and Medicaid is the primary payer for 45 percent of childbearing women and 47 percent of newborns. I look forward to fighting for legislation to improve our health care system, including the care of mothers and babies, as this new Congress continues.
What are your health care priorities (especially on MCH) this Congress?
Roybal-Allard: America’s maternal mortality crisis is awakening the public and policymakers to the systemic problems in our maternity care system. That’s why I’ll be working in this Congress to keep passing evidence-based policies that make childbirth safer for all mothers and babies in all communities.
To that end, I will be introducing three bills this year. The first will reauthorize my Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act to continue the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Heritable Disorders, and to continue the act’s very successful grant programs for states to improve their screening programs, educate parents and providers about newborn screening disorders, and ensure the quality of laboratory tests. I will also be introducing two maternity care bills: one to establish a coordinated national focus on evidence-based maternity care, and another to expand the availability of midwives to provide much-needed maternity services.