U.S. Senator Katie Britt: ‘I Am Committed’ to Enacting the NIH IMPROVE Act Into Law

May 29, 2024

‘Improving healthcare for women before, during, after pregnancy is truly vital’

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 29, 2024 — U.S. Senator Katie Britt (R-Ala.) last week participated in a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies hearing regarding the Fiscal Year 2025 National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget. The hearing featured the testimony of NIH Director Dr. Monica Bertagnolli.

In Senator Britt’s line of questioning, she highlighted her continued support for NIH’s Implementing a Maternal Health and Pregnancy Outcomes Vision for Everyone (IMPROVE) initiative. Senator Britt and Senator Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) are the lead sponsors of the bipartisan NIH IMPROVE Act, which would provide consistent funding for the NIH to conduct important research into the causes of America’s maternal mortality crisis through the IMPROVE initiative.

As Senator Britt noted, improving health care and outcomes for women before, during, and after pregnancy is “truly vital,” especially in Alabama where the maternal mortality rate is 64.63 deaths per 100,000 births, the highest in the nation. Dr. Bertagnolli affirmed that the IMPROVE initiative is a “really important” effort to improving maternal healthcare.

During the hearing, Senator Britt reaffirmed her commitment to enacting the NIH IMPROVE Act into law and advancing additional solutions to improving America’s maternal mortality crisis.

A transcript of Senator Britt’s line of questioning related to maternal health follows:

BRITT:  Thank you so much for visiting Alabama this year. I am deeply grateful for your time and [coming to] visit with the incredible men and women that work there (at the University of Alabama at Birmingham), see the work that’s being done, figuring out how we can partner to continue to change lives for the better. [I] really, really appreciate it.

In Alabama, over a third of our 67 counties are classified as “maternity care deserts,” areas without access to birthing facilities or maternity care providers. Last fall, three more Alabama hospitals announced closures of their labor and delivery departments, leaving both Shelby County and Monroe County without access to labor and delivery services.

Additionally, Alabama has the highest maternal mortality rate in the nation. I am of the mindset, as I believe probably the men and women sitting at that table are as well, this is a crisis we should be able to fix.

If you look back to 2019, NIH launched the Implementing a Maternal Health and Pregnancy Outcomes Vision for Everyone, the IMPROVE, initiative. Madam Director, could you speak to the importance of this program and why the NIH felt so strongly that standing up the IMPROVE initiative was necessary, even without a sustained funding source?

BERTAGNOLLI:  Oh, absolutely. Thank you, Senator. You know, pregnancy related complications resulted in the deaths of about 1,200 women in 2021. We’re still waiting to see the figures coming in for the last couple years, but it was just an enormous jump and with much higher rates in Black women, which is also terrible.

IMPROVE is one of many efforts, a really important one, but one of many. We are looking to tackle this problem because it’s multifactorial, it’s mental health, you know, so our Institute of Mental Health plays a role. It is also, to a certain degree, associated with substance use disorder as well, which we know all of these things intersect.

BRITT:  All of these things (work) together. And that’s why it is so critically important. I just want to say thank you. Improving healthcare for women before, during, after pregnancy is truly vital.

And I really am thankful for your leadership in this space. And I want you to know that I want to continue to partner.

As you mentioned, though, obviously, this research funding is so important, but really lacks a sustainable funding source.

And so last month, I was proud to partner with Senator Laphonza Butler from California on the NIH IMPROVE Act, which would authorize in [statute] and provide consistent funding for this initiative. So, I just want to thank all of you and the NIH staff for providing your offices to help us with technical assistance on this, to make sure that we could get this important bill out there.

I am committed to continuing to work with Senator Butler to finding a way to getting this passed into law. As you mentioned, not only (does) Alabama (have) the highest maternal mortality, it disproportionately affects the Black community, and we need answers, and we need them now. So, we’re going to keep working on that to help with America’s maternal mortality crisis.

Senator Britt has made health care, including maternal care, a top legislative priority during her first 16 months in office. This month, she introduced the More Opportunities for Moms to Succeed (MOMS) Act. This legislation would provide critical support to women during typically challenging phases of motherhood – prenatal, postpartum, and early childhood development – and bolster access to resources and assistance to help mothers and their children thrive.

Additionally, Senator Britt joined Senators Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) in introducing the Rural Obstetrics Readiness Act. This bipartisan legislation would expand access to maternal care by offering support for rural health care facilities and doctors to provide urgent obstetric care. This is especially important for Alabama, as 55 of the state’s 67 counties are considered rural.

Video of Senator Britt’s line of questioning can be found here, and high-quality video for media use can be downloaded here.