Better coordination between Medicaid, USDA nutrition program could improve maternal outcomes, survey finds

A lack of coordination between Medicaid and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a missed opportunity to close care gaps, a new survey reveals.

The survey was conducted by health tech company Pacify Health, reaching more than 500 perinatal parents who were on Medicaid during their pregnancy, most of whom also participated in the WIC program. Pacify Health is among the resources offered for free to Medicaid members and WIC participants.

The two programs touch more maternal lives than any other initiatives, according to a report detailing the survey’s findings. WIC provides food, formula and education, while Medicaid covers deliveries. A pregnant person’s access to healthy food directly affects their pregnancy. WIC reduces fetal deaths and infant mortality and improves other outcomes. 

But coordination is sparse, the report said. This is due, in part, to a fundamental structural difference: WIC reports to the U.S. Department of Agriculture while Medicaid is under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

Though most respondents said they trusted Medicaid more than WIC for healthcare advice, WIC was found to be most influential for behavior changes. WIC participants were also more likely to be asked about social determinants of health and receive additional resources than through Medicaid. 

“If the programs started to coordinate, there may be better ways for parents to access care,” Melanie Silverman, Pacify Health’s chief clinical officer, told Fierce Healthcare. 

Despite most respondents participating in WIC, few heard about it from a doctor or Medicaid. Providers could promote WIC to ensure access to common services like food vouchers, formula and breastfeeding support. This includes promoting WIC services during well-child visits post-birth.

Given the robust participation in WIC during pregnancy, which sees up to 10 times more participation than Medicaid-managed care, WIC clinics could promote these services, the report offered. They could also help educate members on avoiding Medicaid coverage gaps. 

By working together, Medicaid plans could attract more members while WIC clinics could help improve breastfeeding rates and access to nutrition. The report also recommended data-matching programs between Medicaid, SNAP and other programs to identify eligible members not enrolled in WIC. Care should also be coordinated. Finally, federal agencies and states should issue guidance on and promote best practices for improving maternal health.