As a physician in Idaho, watching the 2023 legislative session was perplexing. Most health care-related bills have focused on restricting instead of improving access to care. These have emerged under the guise of protecting families and cutting unnecessary expenses, however, as a medical professional trained to care for the medical needs of Idaho families, I would argue that most of what we saw would not improve health outcomes.
There was one glimmer of hope to the medical community in House Bill 81, which would have kept the Maternal Mortality Review Committee from ending later this year, but it was held in committee without a vote, and, as a result the review committee expired.
The medical community improves outcomes by collecting data, and the review committee was created to do just that, by tracking deaths in Idaho that occurred from pregnancy-related complications.
This committee was created in 2019, before the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, and its findings have been alarming.
In its first 2020 report, the review committee found that Idaho had a maternal death rate that’s almost double the national average. In reviewing the data, it is likely that all these deaths were preventable, meaning that this report will hopefully allow us to learn from our mistakes and do better. While the next report is not currently available, preliminary reports indicate that our rate of maternal deaths continues to be researched. If this trend continues, we are headed for catastrophe.
A lack of support for policies that help pregnant women has been exacerbated by continued efforts to criminalize medicine, which put our physician workforce in jeopardy.
What will happen when there are more pregnant people due to the abortion ban and the number of physicians to care for them? It will be more important than ever to review circumstances where the medical system failed and troubleshoot how to prevent the same event from happening again. Yet we will be left without one of our greatest tools to do so by no longer having a Maternal Mortality Review Committee.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 49 states have a formal maternal mortality review committee or legal requirement to review pregnancy-related deaths. Idaho’s review committee cost less than half of what was anticipated, at only $10,000, making it an incredible return on investment. The small appropriation of funds from our tax dollars that went to the committee are well spent. Why was Idaho so quick to let this important work end?
The Maternal Mortality Review Committee is a fundamental institution for protecting the health of Idaho families. Yet the Legislature eliminated the committee, refused to pass a bill that would provide extended health coverage for post-partum women and infants and rejected efforts to provide exceptions in Idaho’s abortion laws to protect women’s health and fertility.
All Idahoans should be asking, why did the Legislature allow the Maternal Mortality Review Committee to expire this year? Why shouldn’t preventing pregnancy deaths be nonpartisan? Let’s work together to insist on better policies that support pregnant women and families in Idaho.
Dr. Loren Colson is a family medicine physician in Boise, where he practices full spectrum care including hospital medicine and obstetrics. Colson is a fellow of the Physicians for Reproductive Health and serves on the Idaho Academy of Family Physicians’ Reproductive Health Subcommittee.