Year after year, it's the same story: The maternal mortality rate rises and the number of deaths among pregnant women of color are disproportionately high.
In the U.S., Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. Even in low-risk pregnancies, Black women are more likely to receive a C-section. Such procedures have been associated with increased rates of infection, bleeding and hospital readmissions. And infants born to Black women are more than twice as likely to die before reaching their first birthday compared to white babies.
A new national focus on these disparities has led a number of insurers to unveil programs aimed at bridging the gaps. Many of the initiatives target increasing access to maternal care for Medicaid enrollees, and adding benefits that address social determinants of health.
Humana, Anthem, Cigna and UnitedHealth Group have all invested in—and utilized the services of—the March of Dimes, a not-for-profit that provides maternal care services. This year, Cigna also launched a new payment model that rewards physicians who screen patients for the social determinants of health and create action plans to target disparities. Healthfirst, a New York City-based not-for-profit payer, sponsored a social worker and community health worker at Mount Sinai Hospital to care for its Medicaid patients. Combined with heightened member education services and rewarding the health system for every postpartum visit completed, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in March 2020 found that the initiative increased postpartum visits to 90% three months after delivery.
"It just shows that when a health plan and a hospital work together, we can eliminate disparities," said Errol Pierre, senior vice president of state programs at Healthfirst.