Maternal mortality has grown each year since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began looking at the numbers.

“Since the Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System was implemented, the number of reported pregnancy-related deaths in the United States steadily increased from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 17.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017.”

“It would surprise anyone who lives in the United States of America in the 21st Century to find that…we rank within the top five in terms of maternal mortality in pregnancy, which is a horrendous outcome,” State Senator Andrew Gounardes told Capital Tonight.

Nearly 60,000 people in the U.S. suffer from pregnancy-related diseases, according to the CDC. The majority are non-Hispanic Black women.

“If you are a Black woman, you are twice as likely than anyone else…to experience a life-threatening complication during or after childbirth,” Gounardes said. “And you are eight times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related death.”

To address the issue, Gounardes, who chairs the Senate Budget and Revenue Committee, and Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, have introduced the Hospital Equity and Affordability Law, or HEAL Act, to bar hospital networks from striking contracting deals with insurers that have the effect of raising health-care costs.

“We know one of the big drivers of those increasing costs is the way that big hospital networks are leveraging their market power to dictate the terms by which they are going to cover treatment and health care services for patients,” Gounardes said. “Big hospital networks will come in and say, ‘If you want access to our world class cancer treatments, you also have to contract with us for your colonoscopy treatment, and your MRIs and your mammograms.’”

Gounardes referenced reporting by Crain’s which revealed wide discrepancies between what different hospitals charged for similar services in New York City.

The HEAL Act was inspired, in part, by a maternity program created by the 32BJ Health Fund, which had been lauded as a first-of-its-kind program.

The union’s fund had offered high-quality prenatal and postnatal care and delivery at partner hospitals for as low as $40 total out-of-pocket costs.

But a 2021 contract between Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield and New York-Presbyterian Hospital would “force the fund to end the innovative programs it currently offers participants, including a cutting-edge maternity care program.”

In an emailed statement to Capital Tonight, HANYS, the Healthcare Association of New York State which represents hospitals, wrote: “We are evaluating the HEAL Act, but we have concerns that the bill could create a bigger imbalance of power between plans and providers.”

The HEAL Act (S7199-A8169) currently sits in the Insurance Committee in both the Senate and Assembly.