WASHINGTON, D.C. – Federal legislation to improve health care access for new and expecting mothers in rural communities was introduced last week by U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-4th District, and Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M.

House Resolution 4243, the Rural Maternal and Obstetric Modernization of Services (MOMS) Act would make important strides toward addressing rural maternal mortality and morbidity rates by expanding convenient and consistent access to health care services for pregnant women and new mothers in remote areas, said the representatives.

“It looks like some of what we’re doing is having an impact,” said Mid-Valley Hospital CEO Alan Fisher of recent meetings with Newhouse about health care concerns in rural areas.

“Rural residents and minorities, including Native American women, have an alarmingly high maternal mortality rate,” said Newhouse. “As I travel across central Washington, I hear how rural hospitals and health care providers are struggling to provide obstetric services and maternal care.

“By creating rural obstetric networks and new training for health professionals, we can empower our maternal health systems to adapt to best meet the needs of these communities. The Rural MOMS Act will expand data collection and telehealth programs for rural providers to help deliver quality care and improve outcomes for expecting mothers and families in central Washington and those in rural areas across the nation.”

“One issue I hear about any time I am home in New Mexico is the challenge rural residents face due to a lack of accessible health care providers, leading many to forego necessary care or to stretch their budgets to attend doctors’ appointments hours away,” said Torres Small. “For pregnant women in rural districts like New Mexico’s 2nd District, they often have to spend hours on the road and cross state lines to attend the necessary prenatal appointments.

“Expectant mothers should have the peace of mind that no matter where they choose to start a family, they will have access to the resources they need to bring healthy babies into the world.”

Other co-sponsors are Reps. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa; Bob Latta, R-Ohio; Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., and Tom Cole, R-Okla.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the maternal mortality rate in large, central metropolitan areas was 18.2 per 100,000 live births. For most rural areas, it was 29.4 per 100,000 live births, according to the 2015 data.

The act would:

-Create rural maternal and obstetric care data improvements by requiring the Centers for Disease Control to coordinate efforts around maternal mortality and morbidity, report on women’s health conditions according to sociocultural and geographic contexts, and emphasize research on pregnancy-related deaths.

-Award rural obstetric network grants to assist in the creation of regional innovation networks to address maternal mortality morbidity rates as well as birth outcomes.

-Expand existing federal telehealth grantp to include birth and postnatal services as part of telehealth networks, and use federal funding for the cost of ultrasound machines, fetal monitoring equipment and other pregnancy-related technology by expanding the federal telehealth grant programs.

-Launch a rural maternal and obstetric care training demonstration for family medicine physicians, obstetricians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, midwives, doulas and other medical professionals to provide maternal care services in rural, community-based settings.

-Report on maternal care in rural areas to identify the locations of gaps in maternity care, recommendations to standardize data collection on maternal mortality and morbidity, and activities to improve maternal care in rural areas.

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