The Jolt: Tackling a Maternal Death Rate that Puts Georgia on Par with Uzbekistan

The Jolt: Tackling a Maternal Death Rate that Puts Georgia on Par with Uzbekistan

By: AJC

Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, on Monday named the members of the House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality, likely to be one of the more important panels drawing up legislation this summer. From the press release:

“Georgia simply cannot continue to have one of the nation’s worst rates of maternal mortality,” said Speaker David Ralston. “This is an issue which impacts all Georgians and demands a fact-based approach to problem-solving.”

The problem isn’t a new one. It’s been bad and is getting worse. Our AJC colleague Ariel Hart wrote this nearly a year ago:

In spite of similar efforts in the past, Georgia continues to swim at the bottom of the barrel on several key U.S. health rankings.

That includes maternal mortality, the number per 100,000 live births of women who died during pregnancy or childbirth or in the weeks afterward. The number itself is small, but its significance is statewide, a signal of overall voids in health care.

“People in America aren’t supposed to die during childbirth,” said Dr. Karen Kinsell, an Ivy League physician who moved from New York to rural Clay County in southwest Georgia to run a clinic there…

…When Amnesty International first reported its alarm at U.S. maternal mortality, it found Georgia ranked 50 out of 50 states with a rate of 20.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

The overall U.S. rate was bad enough, at 13.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, well behind other industrialized nations. For example, an American woman was five times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in Greece.

That report used the latest statistics available at the time, from 2006. Now, the DPH’s latest available numbers, from 2016, show a [Georgia] rate of 37.2 maternal deaths per 100,000. That’s worse than Uzbekistan.

The problem is tied closely to access to health care, which means the panel named by Ralston will be paying close attention to Gov. Brian Kemp’s still-unformed plan to draw down more federal Medicaid dollars.Race is another factor in the maternal mortality debate. Nationally, black women are three to four times more likely to die during pregnancy and delivery, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The House maternal mortality panel will be co-chaired by state Reps. Sharon Cooper of Marietta and Mark Newton of Augusta – both Republicans. Cooper chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee. Newton is a physician specializing in emergency medicine. The other House members appointed to the study committee are:

Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula;– Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus;– Deborah Silcox, R-Sandy Springs;– Valencia Stovall, D-Forest Park;– and Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville.You’ll note that three of the five Republicans named to the panel are from north metro Atlanta, representing areas made even more politically vulnerable by this year’s passage of House Bill 481, the anti-abortion “heartbeat” bill.Which means the panel, in addition to tackling a horrendous and embarrassing health problem, could also be seen as an opportunity to help offset a coming backlash of female voters.

Now that state Sen. Renee Unterman is formally in the Republican race for the U.S. House, the competition for her Gwinnett County seat in the Legislature is taking shape. Arthur Tripp Jr., the former assistant to University of Georgia President Jere Morehead, is set to announce this morning for the District 45 seat — as an independent. Historically, this must be considered a longshot. An independent hasn’t been elected to that chamber in at least 40 years, Tripp admits. Unterman is a Republican, the county is quickly tilting Democratic, and Tripp is aiming for a sweet spot in between. From the press release:

“It is clear that the politics of today has become incredibly divisive and has pit neighbor against neighbor….Our campaign is focused on Georgians who are fed up with the state of politics and who, quite frankly, deserve a better choice.”

Tripp previously served as a former senior policy to U.S. Rep. David Scott of Atlanta, one of the more conservative Democratic members of the U.S. House.Tripp is also African-American — and from Hoschton. Which is somewhat ironic, given that the mayor and one council member in that small city are under fire for eliminating a candidate for a city administration position because he is black.

One candidate not running for Renee Unterman’s soon-to-be vacated state Senate seat: Former state Rep. Buzz Brockway, who ran unsuccessfully last year for secretary of state.

The Republican said he’s been enjoying his work at the Georgia Center for Opportunity and spending more time with his family.