Health Care

Former US Health Secretaries Call for Big Ideas in Addressing Maternal Morbidity and Mortality

September 1, 2020  • Kathleen Sebelius & Tommy Thompson

Former US Secretaries of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Tommy Thompson are co-chairs of the Aspen Health Strategy Group (AHSG). The Aspen Health Strategy Group is comprised of 23 senior leaders across influential sectors such as health, business, media, technology, who are tasked with providing recommendations on important and complex health issues to promote improvements in policy and practice.

Each year the AHSG tackles one issue for a year-long, in-depth study. This year’s topic is maternal mortality. Do you have a big idea to tackle this issue? Submit it to us online by filling out a short form.

Maternal mortality rates are used globally to measure a nation’s health care quality and equity. Strikingly, the maternal mortality rate in the United States is higher than any other comparable, high-income nation. The WHO reports the maternal death rate in the US at 17.4 per 100,000 births—a rate that has risen steadily since 1987 — with the next comparable nation at 11 per 100,000 births. Within this alarming finding is another one: Black mothers across the income spectrum are dying from preventable pregnancy-related complications at three to four times the rate of non-Hispanic white women (37.1 deaths per 100,000); the rate is 11.8 for Hispanic women. Maternal mortality is a health crisis in the US and one that disproportionately impacts Black women and women of color.

What are the factors contributing to disturbingly high maternal mortality rates in the US? Why are there such large disparities among populations? What are the causes of death?   What can be done to mitigate disparities and save mothers? These are the questions the Aspen Health Strategy Group will explore.

America owes its mothers better care, improved birth outcomes, and the promise of a healthy life. As leaders, policymakers, health care workers, and researchers across the country confront this egregious and solvable health issue, the Aspen Health Strategy Group brings together high-ranking, creative thinkers across sectors to join this search for answers, lessons, and action.

As the nation and our healthcare system confront a deadly pandemic, spiraling economic crisis, and deeply entrenched structural racism, the politics of healthcare has become extraordinarily polarized. This is why the Aspen Health Strategy Group is seeking to promote innovations in healthcare that break through existing political and institutional barriers. In previous years, the Group has taken on the issues of end-of-life care; the opioid crisis; chronic disease; and antimicrobial resistance.

As we have done in the past and in the tradition of the thought-provoking conversations and ideas shared throughout Aspen Ideas: Health, we are looking for big ideas to transform the way we address the maternal mortality crisis in our country. They should be “big”—as in meaningful and bold—and “ideas” as in reflecting thought and not simply an exhortation that someone should do something, or something should be done that should be happening already.

We know that good ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, so we are opening up our solicitation for big ideas to everyone. If you have a big idea for addressing maternal mortality, we hope you will share it with us. The AHSG staff and members will select up to five that will be included in a final report that will be prepared at the close of the Group’s meeting. This is not a competition — there is no prize — but your big idea just might become the starting point for much-needed change in healthcare.

For complete information about our guidelines, and to submit your big idea, go here.