Menendez, Sullivan Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Close Digital Divide, Address Disparities in Maternal Mortality
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that sets national health policy, and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) formally introduced bipartisan legislation today to close the digital divide in health care and address racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes.
The Tech to Save Moms Act will invest in and promote the integration and development of telehealth and other digital tools to reduce maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity. The legislation is based on a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recommendation that the use of digital tools, including expansion of remote patient monitoring and promoting virtual training and capacity, can play an important role in addressing specific challenges facing patients and providers, particularly in underserved communities.
“Before the pandemic, New Jersey had one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country and alarming racial disparities in maternal health outcomes. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated barriers to equitable maternity care,” said Sen. Menendez. “The Tech to Save Moms Act will allow us to leverage new technologies, improve the integration of telehealth services in maternal health care, combat implicit biases, and ultimately reduce disparities in maternal health.”
“We are losing far too many new and expectant mothers whose deaths could have been prevented,” said Sen. Sullivan. “In Alaska, this challenge is even more severe for mothers who live in our remote communities, hundreds of miles from the nearest health care facility. New emerging digital tools can enable a provider to assess mothers wherever they are, improve health outcomes, and bring down these unacceptably high rates of maternal mortality. I am excited to join Senator Menendez in introducing this legislation to utilize the best in technology today to save moms throughout America and Alaska.”
The Tech to Save Moms Act will:
1. Require the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation to consider models that improve the integration of telehealth services in maternal health care.
2. Provide funding for technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity building models that will develop and disseminate instructional programming and training for maternity care providers in underserved areas. Grants can be used to ensure access to high-speed, reliable internet for grantees. The models will cover topics such as:
a. Safety and quality improvement.
b. Best practices in screening for and treating maternal mental health conditions and substance use disorders.
c. The use of remote patient monitoring tools for common complications in pregnancy and after delivery.
3. Establish a grant program to expand access to digital tools that can promote equitable maternal health outcomes, particularly in underserved communities.
4. Study the use of new technologies, like artificial intelligence, in maternal health care to prevent racial and ethnic biases from being built into maternity care innovations.
About 700 women die each year in the U.S. as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications, and Black, Native American and Alaska Native women are two-to-three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the 2021 Nurture NJ Strategic Plan, Black women in New Jersey from 2014 to 2016 had approximately seven times more pregnancy-related deaths (46.9 per 100,000 live births) than white women (6.5 per 100,000 live births).
Severe Maternal Morbidity (SMM) is defined by the CDC as unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery that result in significant short- or long-term consequences to a woman’s health. New Jersey’s SMM rates are among the highest in the U.S., according to a 2020 report by the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH). In 2018, rates of SMM among New Jersey Black, non-Hispanic women were nearly three times greater than those of non-Hispanic white women.
The Tech to Save Moms Act is included in the bipartisan Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act that was recently introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.-14). This omnibus legislation included twelve bills to end maternal mortality and to close racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes.
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas-30) introduced the Tech to Save Moms Act in the House of Representatives.
“In the last year, we have seen how telehealth has provided patients with connections to their health care providers that otherwise might not be possible because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These digital tools can play a significant role in addressing maternal health challenges facing patients and providers, particularly in underserved areas, and we must make sure there is equity in access to these tools,” said Rep. Johnson. “The pandemic has underscored the need for bold action to end health disparities, especially for our communities of color. I am proud to have introduced this critical legislation to strengthen the telehealth resources needed to achieve maternal health equity in the United States.”
The Tech to Save Moms Act is supported by the American Nurses Association, American Telemedicine Association, and Health Innovation Alliance.