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Patients Say Costs, Access Drive Maternal Health Crisis in GA

A survey of Georgia residents showed that the maternal health crisis is a salient issue for folks who cite high costs and poor care access.

The residents of Georgia are fully aware of the maternal health crisis affecting the state—and the rest of the United States—and are calling on policymakers to do something about it in a new survey assessing public sentiment in the state.

The data from Research!America and the Woodruff Health Sciences Center at Emory University showed that it’s not uncommon for someone in Georgia to have experienced poor maternal health outcomes or know someone who did.

The problem of poor maternal health outcomes, for which the US is the worst in the developed world and for which Georgia is worst in the nation, is top-of-mind for Georgians. One in 10 respondents said they know someone who’s died during pregnancy, at delivery, or soon after birth. Another 57 percent said they’ve experienced or know someone who’s experienced complications during pregnancy.

With the understanding that poor maternal health outcomes affect Black Georgians more often than White Georgians, respondents asserted a need for better health policy that makes healthcare more equitable and affordable to begin to tackle this problem.

“The high level of awareness and concern about the devastating level of maternal mortality we see in this survey of adults in the state of Georgia represents nothing short of a call to action,” Mary Woolley, the president of Research!America, said in a statement. “It is nonetheless heartening to see Georgians’ strong support for action to reverse the discouraging trends, including more coordination of services, and support for more research and for community-based interventions.”

Poor healthcare access, cost bar good maternal outcomes

The problem of poor maternal health outcomes is salient in the state of Georgia, the survey found, and it’s mostly because healthcare is too expensive to be accessible, survey respondents indicated.

Around half (54 percent) of respondents said that healthcare affordability is the top barrier to care, even when an individual has insurance. And even when someone can afford healthcare, it’s not always available. Just over a quarter (28 percent) of patients said they have trouble getting to appointments because there aren’t enough appointment slots for them.

But it’s not just cost that’s getting in the way of good outcomes. Substance use disorders (47 percent), lack of insurance (47 percent), and mental health issues (41 percent) emerged as the top factors that Georgians think can contribute to a higher risk for maternal mortality.

Still, adequate healthcare access is necessary to address those issues, and as long as healthcare is unaffordable, that access may falter.

In terms of disparities in maternal health outcomes—Black women are three times more likely to die from childbirth in Georgia compared to their White counterparts—many Georgians can acknowledge the role that implicit and explicit bias can play. Nearly six in 10 (61 percent) said the US healthcare industry treats people unfairly at least somewhat often because of their racial or ethnic background or because of how well they speak English.

To that end, a third of respondents (36 percent) said that racism is a major obstacle to achieving equitable health outcomes, a figure that ticks up to 49 percent when looking only at Black respondents.

Respondents also cited income-based discrimination that can get in the way of a good healthcare interaction.

Georgians push for better health equity

Despite healthcare’s pitfalls (70 percent expressed concern about the current state of maternal health), 74 percent of survey respondents expressed hope that policy change could yield better clinical outcomes.

State leaders and policymakers should begin by focusing on the healthcare affordability issue, survey participants said. About three-quarters (73 percent) said that improving the affordability of maternal healthcare could move the needle on maternal mortality, while 70 percent said that improving access to health insurance coverage could do the same.

The vast majority of respondents (87 percent) said it is important for the state of Georgia to conduct more research into health disparities to better understand them. That will help state policymakers tailor interventions to address disparities in maternal health outcomes, which 82 percent of respondents said is the key next step.

These survey findings were presented as part of the inaugural Symposium to Address the Maternal Health Crisis in Georgia, at which key industry stakeholders convened to discuss strategies to remediate inequity.

“This survey puts a public health perspective on the challenges posed by the maternal health crisis. Hearing from Georgians who are personally experiencing these challenges gives us a window into potential solutions that will make a real difference across the state,” Ravi I. Thadhani, MD, MPH, executive vice president for health affairs at Emory University, said in a statement about the Symposium.

“That is why we are thankful for the opportunity this symposium provides to come together with these other fine institutions and to partner on creating a path toward measurable progress,” Thadhani added. “We can’t do that as single institutions; we have to do it collaboratively and by speaking with one voice.”

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