New data from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) show that Black and Hispanic women are at greater risk for complications at childbirth than white women, no matter their age.
The analysts used the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Severe Maternal Morbidity Measure (SMM) and found SMM rates are 63% higher for women living in majority Black communities and 32% higher in majority Hispanic communities when compared to largely white communities.
BCBSA researchers found that the rate of severe childbirth complications increased by 19% over the past two years among Hispanic women. Black women under the age of 24 were more likely to experience complications than white women over age 35, an age group that would be considered high risk for pregnancy.
"We have to change this trajectory now," Justine Handelman, senior vice president of the Office of Policy and Representation at BCBSA, told reporters during a press briefing last week.
BCBSA has made addressing these disparities a key strategic focus. The organization launched its National Health Equity Strategy earlier this year, with maternal health named as the first issue the program aims to target.
The strategy is aiming to reduce racial disparities in maternal health by 50% over the next five years, BCBSA executives said.
In addition to studying data on potential complications, the group surveyed 750 women about their experiences with pregnancy and childbirth care over the prior year, including women enrolled in commercial, Medicare and Medicaid plans as well as the uninsured.
The survey found that 62% of Black women were able to complete all recommended prenatal care, with those who did not citing issues with transportation or scheduling conflicts.
Black and Hispanic women were also less likely than white women to feel they would get the care they need, and fewer Black women said they feel they can speak openly with their providers.
“The disparities we see in maternal health care are the result of a complex fabric of social, racial and economic injustice—and require a new system of health caring, not just health care,” said BCBSA CEO Kim Keck in a statement. “Every mother deserves to have the best care at every stage of their pregnancy."