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Independence Blue Cross experts testify before Philadelphia City Council on racial disparities in city’s maternal morbidity rate

Leaders from Independence Blue Cross (IBX) provided testimony today to Philadelphia City Council on solutions to racial disparities in the maternal mortality rate in the city. The testimony took place at a hearing called by Councilmember and Public Health Committee Chair Nina Ahmad, Ph.D. Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall-Blake, president of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation (IBX Foundation) and vice president of Community Affairs for IBX, and Dr. Seun Ross, executive director of Health Equity for Independence Blue Cross, spoke before the Council’s Committee on Public Health.

Severe maternal morbidity (SMM) refers to life-threatening complications that occur during or after childbirth. Recent research shows that Black and brown communities are disproportionately affected by SMM. The Public Health Committee hearing investigated racism as a factor and cause of maternal morbidity. Potential solutions to the issue were also discussed.

Improving Maternal Health Care

In their testimonies, Marshall-Blake and Ross identified evidence-based programs supported by the IBX Foundation and IBX to improve the quality of maternal care and eliminate racial disparities in maternal morbidity rates in Philadelphia.

“The IBX Foundation Institute for Health Equity is engaging in strategic partnerships with community and clinicians to promote maternal health equity through several initiatives,” said Marshall-Blake.

In 2022, the IBX Foundation announced its Institute for Health Equity, a $15 million commitment to equity in maternal care, medical education, and digital health. Maternal care efforts through the Institute for Health Equity include advancing the professionalism of doulas, and support for maternal wellness and birthing centers in Philadelphia to improve access to cultural-congruent care.

On the clinical side, IBX convened the Regional Coalition to Eliminate Race Based Medicine in 2023. The Coalition has committed to focus on 15 clinical decision tools, including two obstetric tools, that adjust results based on a person’s race, potentially causing delays and inequities in care. The Coalition includes health systems in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware.

Other IBX maternal health-focused activities include:

  • Supporting organizations addressing maternal health disparities, like Cayaba Care and
  • Offering a high-risk pregnancy condition management program for pregnant members who are experiencing depression and may be at risk for other health conditions.
  • Offering Baby BluePrints®, a longstanding program that supports expectant pregnant members through education and access to a health coach.

Next Steps for Philadelphia

“We have an obligation and a duty to the health and well-being of this community,” said Marshall-Blake. “Our health care system can sometimes be reactionary – meaning we don’t address something until it’s a problem. When leaders and conveners come together to address and change these issues, they’re often playing catch up.”

The leaders identified key next steps for the city to take to address inequities in maternal health care, including supporting programs to address bias in health care, uplifting community partners and care providers, and engaging policymakers at the local and national level.

“At IBX, we are passionate about our mission to enhance the health and well-being of the people and communities we serve, and so we are excited to join you and the Committee on Public Health and Human Services toward figuring out the right solutions for our shared goal in improving health care here in the community,” Ross said. “Addressing the root causes of health inequity and creating healthier outcomes for every person in every community we serve is a focus of our mission.”


Media contact:
Ruth Stoolman