As ob-gyns, we all agree that women should have access to comprehensive health care throughout the continuum of life. We have been especially focused recently on ensuring prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum care, no matter their zip code. But access to maternal health care in rural areas is rapidly disappearing across the United States. Over the past nine years, more than 100 rural hospitals have closed in the United States, making delivering high-quality, safe health care to patients more difficult than ever before. Even more alarming is that more than 600 additional facilities, which represent more than one-third of rural hospitals in the United States, are currently at risk of closing.
Disparities in access to care in rural areas don’t affect everyone equally, either. Women of color are disproportionately affected by disparities in rural health care: U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) points out that rural counties with more black residents are at greater risk of losing their labor and delivery services.
It’s plain to see why increasing access to ob-gyn services in rural areas is an important issue to ob-gyns and our patients. I’m proud to share that ACOG’s advocacy has contributed greatly to the advancement of a number of new bills that will help improve access to ob-gyn care in rural areas—especially the Rural Maternal and Obstetric Modernization of Services (Rural MOMS) Act, which was introduced in the House and Senate. Our advocacy was crucial in drafting this piece of legislation and ensuring that it received bipartisan support.
The Rural MOMS Act is part of ACOG’s Momnibus, a collection of bills that would help eliminate preventable maternal mortality, support best practices, and enable ob-gyns to better serve their patients. The bill supports training for health care professionals in rural communities, expands telehealth programs, and establishes regional innovation networks. ACOG and our members worked tirelessly to make ob-gyns’ voices heard on the issue of rural maternal health care, and we succeeded.
Importantly, the Rural MOMS Act will help lessen disparities in rural health care in several ways. Rural obstetric network grants, administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration, will help connect women with needed care before, during, and after birth, measure and address inequities in birth outcomes among rural residents, and provide training for health facilities without obstetric health units, among other measures. The Rural MOMS Act will also expand telehealth networks and resource centers and improve federal collection of maternal health data based on geographic location.
Together with our Momnibus, the Rural MOMS Act will make meaningful progress toward reducing disparities in care in rural areas. Thanks to ACOG and our members’ advocacy, pregnant women in rural areas are one important step closer to being able to get the high quality care they need, when and where they need it.