Skip Navigation

Severe maternal health problems on the rise, according to state report

  • Gabriela Martínez/WITF
A screenshot of the Severe Maternal Morbidity in Pennsylvania report.

 PA Health Care Cost Containment Council

A screenshot of the Severe Maternal Morbidity in Pennsylvania report.

The rate of patients experiencing severe health problems due to pregnancy and birth is rising in Pennsylvania, according to a report from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, an independent state agency that studies the cost of healthcare.

The report found that between 2016 and 2022, Black women, patients 40 to 55 years old and patients with Medicaid as their primary health insurance had the highest maternal morbidity rates.

The CDC defines maternal morbidity as “unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery that result in significant short-term or long-term consequences to a woman’s health.” Some common causes of severe maternal morbidity include severe bleeding, high blood pressure and infections.

Between 2016 and 2022, the rate of severe maternal morbidity for Black patients remained the highest, while the rates for White women were the lowest. During that time, there was also a 51% increase in maternal morbidity among Black patients.

There was also a 50% increase in severe maternal morbidity for people who depend on Medicaid, as well as a 61% increase for people who live in ZIP codes with poverty rates higher than 25%.

And while Black low-income patients are suffering morbidity at a higher rate, the increase has been happening across the board, says Heather Nairn, Deputy Executive Director for PHC4.

“It’s extremely concerning that the category of folks who are Black, non-Hispanic are falling into the very highest rates of going through this, and yet, at the same time, every race has increased over this period of time,” Nairn said. 

Kidney failure and disseminated intravascular coagulation – a disorder that causes clotting throughout the body’s blood vessels – contributed to more than half of severe maternal morbidity cases.

Six counties, most clustered in the eastern part of Pennsylvania, had the highest rate of severe maternal morbidity. That includes Pike County, with 205 cases of severe maternal morbidity per 10,000 delivery hospitalizations, and Lehigh with 181 per 10,000.  Four of those six counties – Pike, Carbon, Schuylkill and Monroe – are classified as rural by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

In July, Gov. Josh Shapiro signed into law the Maternal Mortality Review Act, which establishes a committee to study the root causes for morbidity and deaths during childbirth.

Jane Keck, director of health policy for PHC4, said the agency will be working with that committee by sharing data.

“There’s recognition at the state level for a need to investigate this important topic,” Keck said.

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Up Next
Politics & Policy

Inside Spotlight PA’s fight to unseal lobbyist communications with the legislature