HCSC expands program that tries to use community support to improve maternal health

To improve maternal and infant healthcare, Health Care Service Corporation announced that it will expand several initiatives, which rely in part on the cooperation of local groups to ensure its success.

HCSC said it wants to increase access to providers and reduce gaps in healthcare as well as engage and educate residents about maternal and infant well-being. The customer-owned health insurer plans to install the program in the states in which it operates: Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

The expansion will first launch in the Lone Star State, HCSC said.

“We’re collaborating with trusted community organizations and partners, leveraging their knowledge, experience and talents on a local level," HCSC Chief Clinical Officer Monica Berner, M.D., said in a press release. "We seek to build healthier communities by using our resources to respond to societal needs.”

Berner said in the press release that “it’s heartbreaking that so many deaths of pregnant women and infants could have been prevented—and we’re committed to helping more mothers and children not only survive but thrive.”

Death rates linked to maternity spiked in the U.S. in 2021 to a level not seen since 1964, according to a study in Obstetrics & Gynecology. This presents a problem that employer-sponsored health insurance can’t tackle alone.

Medicaid covers 42% of all births in the nation, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and Medicaid coverage makes for fewer pregnancy-related adverse events. States that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act saw a 17% decline in postpartum hospitalizations from 2010 through 2017.

However, the ongoing Medicaid eligibility determinations are leading millions to lose their coverage in the program. It has been estimated that 15 million people who’d gained Medicaid coverage because of the COVID-19 public health emergency could lose it during the process.

An additional 1.7 million individuals could lose Medicaid coverage if Congress enacts work requirements.

HCSC’s program—called Centering Pregnancy—will focus on individual patient care and support groups and will feature health assessments by clinicians followed by a “facilitated discussion” that HCSC hopes will promote a community safety net for mothers throughout pregnancy and into the postpartum stage.

A study in April in The Lancet found that women living in the South and in rural America, as well as Black women, are most likely to die or have other adverse events because of pregnancy compared to white mothers.

The program will offer an app to mothers who need to leave their newborns in NICUs. The app’s tailored to address the unique challenges such situations present. Aside from the health of the infants and the emotional trauma for new babies, NICUs also represent a considerable cost to hospitals, both in an infant’s initial admission but also for those newborns who must be readmitted.

In a study in April in Health Services Insights, researchers examined data on NICU readmissions within a three-month period in 2017 at a large hospital system. The total cost of such readmissions within 90 days came to $768,718 with a mean cost per infant of $1,898. The most expensive newborns to treat were extremely low-birth-weight babies, whose cost per baby on readmission within 90 days came to $25,295.

Mothers often find themselves at greater risk for preeclampsia, preterm birth and having to have cesareans because of untreated hypertension, so the HCSC Centering Pregnancy program will distribute hypertension kits.

Berner said in the press release that “through our long-time maternal support program, we have helped members through pregnancy planning, childbirth and beyond. Now we are building on that foundation, adding additional resources and avenues to engage pregnant and newly delivered members, as well as increasing our reach into the community-at-large.”

Editor's note: A previous version of this story identified Centering Pregnancy as a new program.