Texas is on the front lines of a maternal mortality crisis that claims the lives of more women than almost any other state and almost any other developed country on the planet. For women of color, this crisis is three times as deadly.
But having traveled to all 254 counties of Texas, I know that our state is ready to get after an ambitious goal: going from being the least insured state to leading the way on guaranteed, high-quality, universal health care. Black women and mothers in Texas understand the consequences of failing to do so better than anyone. These racial disparities have life and death consequences.
There are too many stories of mothers in Houston, Dallas and communities of color across Texas where women have undergone emergency surgeries due to complications like blood clots, infections, hemorrhages, or “toxemia,” a condition better known as preeclampsia. Despite medical advancements, the reality is black mothers in the United States remain 243 percent more likely to die due to pregnancy-related or delivery-related complications than white women.
But this deadly impact hasn’t been met with the urgency it deserves. Throughout his first six years in the U.S. Senate, Ted Cruz has largely ignored the calls from mothers across the country demanding action in Congress to address this crisis. Now he is asking for six more years to undermine coverage for people with pre-existing conditions — including pregnancy, allow insurers to refuse coverage for maternity care and other essential health benefits, and cut funding for Medicaid, which helps women in Texas access prenatal care.
This is unacceptable.
Texas deserves a senator who will address maternal mortality head on. Here’s my plan:
First, let’s expand Medicaid in order to help prevent another mother from dying due to complications before or after childbirth. A majority of Texans support Medicaid expansion, which would cover hundreds of thousands more women and ensure that they have access to quality prenatal and postnatal care. From purely an economics standpoint, our state left $100 billion on the table by not expanding Medicaid. As the Congressman from El Paso, I have worked to help Texas and other states access the federal funding for expanding Medicaid that they originally missed out on. I will continue to do so in the U.S. Senate.
Second, at a time when a quarter of the family planning clinics across our state are closing, we need to provide more resources for women’s health care in Texas, not less. That’s why I want to increase funding for Title X Family Planning Programs to ensure millions of low-income Americans can afford access to women’s health services such as screening for cervical cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes — conditions that may increase risk in pregnancy but can be prevented and managed with adequate primary care.
Third, we need to support maternal mortality review committees at the state level. We can reduce maternal deaths by ensuring state agencies like the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force have the resources they need to collect accurate data across the state on the causes of maternal deaths, make recommendations to help reduce maternal deaths and ensure health providers are educated on how they can improve care. I have made it a priority to cosponsor legislation that would provide grants for this important work because we know it saves lives.
Finally, let’s follow the lead of the women who are confronting this crisis every day. The key to tackling it head on will be listening to women of color and learning from their experiences. That’s why I will work with anyone — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents — to make this plan a reality. Together, we can spend the next six years making sure women can have a healthy pregnancy and birth, regardless of geography, party or income. We can spend the next six years protecting women’s access to the care they need. And we can spend the next six years guaranteeing that women are able to make their own decisions about their own bodies.
There is so much at stake in this election for women in Texas and around the country. When you have a campaign that is powered by people not PACs or special interests, you can focus on the issues that matter to communities who have been counted out and taken for granted for far too long. Together, we can overcome the small differences that might otherwise divide us and work to improve health care for all women.
Beto O’Rourke is a Democratic Congressman representing El Paso and a candidate for the U.S. Senate.