OUR OPINION: Missouri must reduce maternal mortality

Once again, Missouri finds itself near the bottom of a list.

This time, the Show-Me State is a perennial cellar dweller when it comes to maternal mortality rates.

How bad is it?

Missouri's rate is about 25.2 mothers' deaths per 100,000 live births; that's 43rd among the 50 states.

"Missouri's current maternal mortality rate ranks among the worst in the nation, and an average of 61 Missouri women die each year while pregnant or within a year of pregnancy," according to Lisa Cox, director of communications for the state's Department of Health and Senior Services.

In his State of the State address, Gov. Mike Parson has asked lawmakers to make some substantial steps in confronting the problem. He's seeking more than $4.3 million in the state budget to "implement a new maternal morality prevention plan to provide support and address preventable deaths of expecting and postpartum mothers."

DHSS requested the new funding to transform the quality of health services provided to women during and after pregnancy to reduce maternal mortality. DHSS proposed funding across five domains to improve maternal health:

• Develop and implement standardized maternity quality care protocols.

• Develop a perinatal health access collaborative to better reach underserved areas.

• Bolster the maternal care workforce.

• Optimize postpartum care to meet current gaps in care.

• Improve maternal health data including a state maternal child health dashboard.

To be clear, the $4.3 million -- if it is approved -- won't be enough to cover everything health leaders would like to do to reduce the risk of maternal mortality for Missourians.

But it's a good start.

And at a time when the state does have the funds to make this investment, legislators and health officials would be wise to leverage those funds with other partners, such as the federal government and nonprofit foundations.

One such lever the state could use would be to extend Medicaid coverage for women for a year postpartum. The federal government gave states that opportunity during the pandemic. Missouri inexplicably was one of several states that did not extend coverage to postpartum mothers.

Yet the federal government has extended the offer again. Missouri shouldn't let the opportunity pass again.

Clearly, poor health outcomes are cyclical. In order to have a healthy population, healthy mothers need to have healthy babies, who then grow up to be healthy mothers.

This cycle benefits all Missourians.

First of all, it's just a wise investment to improve the health of mothers and their children. Failing to do so guarantees poor health outcomes later in life for them in which they pay a hefty price, as does society.

And for a state that values the life of a child -- both unborn and born, why would we neglect to do all that we can to ensure a baby is healthy and has a healthy mother to care for it.

-- News Tribune