The number of maternity care “deserts” across the United States is rising as expectant mothers struggle to have access to health care, according to new research.
A report released Wednesday from the March of Dimes, a nonprofit that works to support the health of mothers and babies, states that up to 6.9 million women nationwide have little or no access to maternal health care, impacting almost 500,000 births in the country.
Researchers found 5 percent of counties shifted to having less access than they had for the organization’s 2020 report on the subject, while 3 percent of counties shifted to a higher level of access.
The number of maternity care deserts also increased by 2 percent since 2020, totaling more than 1,100 counties. Almost 16,000 additional women are without access to care compared to two years ago.
Florida saw the biggest improvement in maternal care access in the past two years, with 92,000 women receiving increased access. Ohio had the biggest reduction, with 97,000 having less access.
The report states that about 2.2 million women of childbearing age live in maternity care deserts, while 4.7 million live in counties with limited access.
Researchers also found that more than 60 percent of maternal care deserts are in rural counties, where only 7 percent of obstetric providers practice.
A map of the levels of maternal care access by county shows that access is more available in many counties in the northeast and on the West Coast, while access is more limited in the Midwest.
Medicaid plays a more significant role in covering births in maternity care deserts than in counties with full access. The program covers 50 percent of births in areas where there’s a lack of care and 40 percent of births in counties with the most access.
The report states that women who live in maternity care deserts are also more likely to have certain health conditions like asthma and hypertension and smoke tobacco than those with more access.