Coverage of cost-effective maternal health services remains poor due to insufficient supply and inadequate demand for these services among the poorest groups. Households pay too great a share of the costs of maternal health services, or do not seek care because they cannot afford the costs. Available evidence creates a strong case for removal of user fees and provision of universal coverage for pregnant women, particularly for delivery care. To be successful, governments must also replenish the income lost through the abolition of user fees. Where insurance schemes exist, maternal health care needs to be included in the benefits package, and careful design is needed to ensure uptake by the poorest people. Voucher schemes should be tested in low-income settings, and their costs and relative cost-effectiveness assessed. Further research is needed on methods to target financial assistance for transport and time costs. Current investment in maternal health is insufficient to meet the fifth Millennium Development Goal (MDG), and much greater resources are needed to scale up coverage of maternal health services and create demand. Existing global estimates are too crude to be of use for domestic planning, since resource requirements will vary; budgets need first to be developed at country-level. Donors need to increase financial contributions for maternal health in low-income countries to help fill the resource gap. Resource tracking at country and donor levels will help hold countries and donors to account for their commitments to achieving the maternal health MDG.