Urgent Need to Address the U.S. Maternal Mortality Crisis, Health Strategy Group Reports

April 22, 2021

The Aspen Health Strategy Group recommends steps to address another ongoing health care crisis in the United States

Contact: Jon Purves
Senior Media Relations Manager
The Aspen Institute


Washington, DC, April 22, 2021 – A new report released by the Aspen Health Strategy Group (AHSG), an Aspen Institute initiative, calls for a prompt response to address the U.S. maternal mortality crisis, which disproportionately impacts Black women and other women of color. “Reversing the U.S. Maternal Mortality Crisis” is the result of a year-long study involving 23 nationally recognized leaders and experts across sectors, with input from the general public. Kathleen Sebelius and Tommy G. Thompson, both former governors and former US Secretaries of Health and Human Services, co-chair the group.

The report can be read online here and a list of AHSG participants is available below.

“We believe addressing maternal mortality should be a high priority. In addition to the direct effects on women, their families, and their communities, failures related to maternal mortality are an indictment of the broader health care system. Tackling the maternal mortality crisis will unleash changes with broad benefits for the overall health system” the group states in the summary report. “The data regarding maternal mortality and morbidity in the United States are devastating… As a nation, we can, and we must, do better.”

The report advances “5 Big Ideas” to address maternal mortality, accompanied by four expert background papers that informed the group’s decisions. Among its key recommendations, the AHSG report urges that the nation:

  • Make a national commitment to lower maternal mortality and morbidity rates
  • Build and support community care models
  • Redesign insurance around women’s needs
  • Tackle the racism that undermines women-centered maternity care
  • Invest in research, data, and analysis

The maternal mortality rate in the United States is above that of any other high-income nation. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there were 17.4 maternal deaths in the US per 100,000 births—a rate that has risen steadily since 1987. (The high-income country with the next highest rate was South Korea, with 11 maternal deaths per 100,000 births.) Within this alarming finding is another one: Black mothers across the income spectrum are dying from preventable pregnancy­related complications at three to four times the rate of non-Hispanic white women.

The rates of maternal mortality and morbidity in the US are a deeply disturbing national health crisis,” said co-chair Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Taking on the challenge of maternity mortality in the United States has never been more important or consequential, or more timely,” added co-chair Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.

The following members of the Aspen Health Strategy Group participated in this report:


  • Kathleen Sebelius, 21st U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (2009-2014); former Governor, State of Kansas (2003-2009)
  • Tommy G. Thompson, 19th U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (2001-2005); former Governor, State of Wisconsin (1987-2001)


  • Marcia Angell, Senior Lecturer on Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School; former Editor-in-Chief, New England Journal of Medicine
  • Richard Baron, President and CEO, American Board of Internal Medicine
  • Richard Besser, President and CEO, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  • Gail K. Boudreaux, President and CEO, Anthem, Inc.
  • Dena Bravata, Healthcare Entrepreneur
  • Toby Cosgrove, Executive Advisor and Former President and CEO, Cleveland Clinic Susan DeVore, CEO, Premier Inc.
  • Deborah DiSanzo, President, Best Buy Health
  • Victor Dzau, President, National Academy of Medicine
  • David Feinberg, Vice President Healthcare, Google
  • Harvey Fineberg, President, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
  • Helene Gayle, President and CEO, The Chicago Community Trust
  • Paul Ginsburg, Professor of Health Policy and Director of Public Policy, Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, University of Southern California; Director, USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy; Leonard D. Schaeffer Chair in Health Policy Studies, The Brookings Institution
  • Sister Carol Keehan, Former President and CEO, Catholic Health Association
  • Larry Merlo, President and CEO, CVS Health
  • David J. Skorton, President and CEO, Association of American Medical Colleges
  • Arne Sorenson, President and CEO, Marriott International, Inc.
  • Andy Stern, President Emeritus, SEIU
  • Jeff Thompson, Executive Advisor and CEO Emeritus, Gundersen Health System
  • Antonia Villarruel, Dean, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing


This is the fifth AHSG publication, following annual reports on end-of life-care, the opioid epidemic,  chronic disease, and antimicrobial resistance. It was edited by Alan R. Weil, editor-in-chief of Health Affairs. The report will be widely distributed to policy makers in health and related fields. AHSG members also commit to examining steps that can be taken in their own institutions and organizations.

The mission of the Aspen Health Strategy Group is to promote improvements in policy and practice by providing leadership on important and complex health issues. The group is comprised of 23 senior leaders across influential sectors including health, business, media, and technology, and is part of the Health, Medicine & Society Program at the Aspen Institute.

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society.  Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. The Institute is based in Washington, DC and Aspen, Colorado.  It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.


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