The Health Care System and Racial Disparities in Maternal Mortality

The Health Care System and Racial Disparities in Maternal Mortality

By Theresa Chalhoub and Kelly Rimar

May 10, 2018


In a series of publications, the Center for American Progress has begun to examine the multifaceted issue of disparities in maternal and infant mortality for African American women and infants. African American women are three to four times more likely to die from childbirth than non-Hispanic white women, and socioeconomic status, education, and other factors do not protect against this disparity. Instead, sexism and racism are primary drivers.1 While such disparities have a number of dimensions, a main area for reform is the current structure and function of the health care system. Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) created historic advances in health insurance coverage, millions still go without health insurance each year, many of them people of color. In addition, those with insurance often still have trouble accessing high-quality, patient-centered care. The following brief begins to outline the complex and various factors within the health care system that likely contribute to such maternal mortality disparities for African American women.

Several recent stories show the practical effects of inequality and illuminates how the health care system fails to listen to African American women’s health concerns. The story of Dr. Shalon Irving provides just one example.