More than 500,000 infants are born prematurely each year in the United States, and the rate of preterm births is up significantly from 20 years ago. Babies who are delivered prematurely (prior to 39 weeks) have a much higher risk for serious health complications, including loss of life and developmental problems. This means they often need increased medical attention, including extended hospital stays and early intervention services. Early deliveries also result in substantial medical risks to mothers and can lead to long-term health problems.

Yet a high percentage of preterm births are due to early deliveries that are elective, meaning that the delivery is scheduled or induced early without any medical indication that an early delivery is needed.

Last week the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it will be acting to reduce number of preterm births, including the early elective deliveries, by awarding more than $40 million in grants to healthcare providers and coalitions to improve prenatal care.
These grants will be awarded to test and evaluate forms of evidence-based best care models of prenatal care that have been found in studies to reduce the rate of prematurity. These include:

  • Enhanced Prenatal Care through Centering/Group Home Visits: organized group visits that allow for pregnant women to interact with each other and receive education and psycho-social support.
  • Enhanced Prenatal Care at Birth Centers: case management, counseling, and psycho-social support are provided to pregnant women from health professionals such as peer counselors and doulas.
  • Enhanced Prenatal Care at Maternity Care Homes: expanded prenatal services are offered to pregnant women, such as improved access to care, improved care coordination, and an increased number of prenatal care and health services.
  • In addition, HHS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, in partnership with the Health Services Resources Administration (HRSA) and the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) will evaluate Enhanced Prenatal Care through Home Visiting as part of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program, and build on the evaluation that has already been started for the program.

These grants will also aim to raise public awareness through a broad-based campaign that will engage providers, patients and the public.
Reducing the number of preterm births and early elective deliveries is not only good for the health of mothers and babies, but it reduces costs by reducing neonatal intensive care services and preventable C-Sections.

Preterm births cost $26 billion overall each year, with Medicaid picking up much of the tab. Medicaid pays for over 40% of births in the United States each year, and pays $20,000 during the first year of life for every preterm birth compared with $2, 100 for full-term infants. Therefore, even a 10% reduction in the number of preterm and early elective deliveries would result in over $75 million in annual Medicaid savings.

First Focus applauds the Administration for its leadership in making the health of mothers and infants a priority, and taking innovative approaches to reducing the number of preterm births. Improving prenatal care and services to prevent preterm births and early elective deliveries is not only good for the health of mothers and babies, but it is also cost-effective. By reducing the number of babies born prematurely, we can ensure that more mothers and babies have the chance for a healthy future.