Medicaid pays for 160,000 pre-term births every year

About 160,000 births covered by Medicaid were electively induced before 39 weeks, likely raising the risk of developmental issues in those newborn children and driving up their healthcare costs in the long term, Kaiser Health News reported.

The elective pre-39-week rate had dipped from 11 percent in 2007 to 8.2 percent in 2011, according to the states that keep tabs on such data. However, it rose again to an average of 8.9 percent between 2010 and 2012. That's according to a new study published in the journal Health Affairs, which examined Medicaid birth data from 22 states. In those states, the early elective birth rate ranged from 2.8 percent to 13.7 percent (the individual state rates were kept under seal as a condition of state participation in the study).

Long-term data regarding births induced before 39 weeks show that such children are more likely to die or have developmental issues, according to Kaiser Health News. Their mothers also are twice as likely to require a cesarean section, putting them at medical risk for undergoing the surgical procedure.

"A risk is being taken that doesn't need to be," said the lead researcher in the study, Tara Trudnak Fowler of the Altarum Institute. "Non-medically indicated C-sections and inductions performed less than 39 weeks are dangerous."

Nearly 2 percent of the births were actually induced before 37 weeks, which raises the risk for developmental issues even further.

Two state Medicaid programs--Texas and Florida--will not reimburse providers that engage in early elective deliveries for enrollees. Some hospitals have started programs to curb early deliveries, and some private insurers, including UnitedHealth and some state Blues plans, also have moved to discourage the practice. Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, told Kaiser Health News that all states should ban payments for early elective deliveries.

To learn more:
- read the Kaiser Health News article
- check out the study abstract