Weekly Column

Those of us from rural Nebraska know there can be challenges when the closest urban center is hours away. When we need specialized medical care, this distance can be even more daunting. Medical care is essential for people in many stages of life, including expectant mothers. According to the Perinatal Data Center, many rural counties in our state have low access to obstetric, or childbirth-related, care.

In Nebraska, over 4,000 babies are born each year to parents who live in counties with no OB-GYN or certified nurse-midwife. Mothers living far away from their medical providers may not have the resources necessary to travel miles for routine pregnancy care. Health outcomes for moms and babies can suffer because of this lack of access to care.

The issue of maternal health is especially relevant following the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 
released new data on maternal mortality rates in the U.S. The CDC found that maternal deaths increased by almost 40% from 2020 to 2021.

Maternal mortality rates have been increasing since 2000, but the size of this recent increase is alarming. In 2021, 1,205 women died of maternal causes — a rate of 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births. That’s compared to only 861 deaths in 2020, or 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic made it even more challenging for women, especially those located in rural areas, seeking prenatal and postnatal care. Rural mothers often lacked the home internet access necessary to take advantage of telehealth services, which could have eased the strains of pandemic-related closures and lockdowns.

All of these factors led me to introduce the Data Mapping to Save Moms’ Lives Act with my colleague U.S. Senator Jackie Rosen (D-Nev.). All 100 U.S. senators voted unanimously to pass our bill, and then in December, President Biden signed it into law. A 
POLITICO article recently highlighted this new law as one of the notable changes made by legislators in recent years to combat rising maternal mortality rates.

The Data Mapping to Save Moms’ Lives Act requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to identify areas with poor maternal health outcomes that lack access to broadband, and incorporate that data into the agency’s broadband health mapping tool. This online platform will pinpoint the high priority locations most in need of reliable broadband to improve maternal health outcomes.

This mapping will provide the FCC with necessary insights to deploy telehealth services to areas where a lack of broadband is worsening maternal mortality risks. Once these areas have broadband, they’ll be able to benefit from the telehealth services they need — which means greater wellbeing for expectant moms and their babies across our country.

When something as basic as broadband access can make the difference between life and death for mothers and their babies, it is clear that we need to do something to help. I’m proud that this critical bill was passed last year and that the FCC can get to work making changes that will protect American mothers and children. This Congress, I’ll continue working on solutions that provide all the support we can for women and children.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

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