First Lady Michelle Obama greets former White House staffer Franny Starkey and her daughter Willa prior to an event at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver in Denver, Colo., Aug. 11, 2012. Photo by Sonya N. Hebert
Michelle Andrews: Dangerous Premature Births Decline In States That Expanded Medicaid
The percentage of babies born prematurely fell to 11.4 percent in 2013, its lowest level in 17 years, according to an annual March of Dimes report released this week. While many factors contributed to the decline, officials say the health law’s expansion of Medicaid to adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level has played a role. Going forward, other health law provisions will likely contribute to further reductions in preterm births, defined as live births at less than 37 full weeks, women’s health advocates suggest. The health law’s expansion of public and private health insurance coverage to millions of women will likely have the largest impact on reducing preterm births, says Adam Sonfield, a senior public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and education organization.
Pregnant women who meet their state’s income eligibility standards (typically at or near 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $23,340), can receive Medicaid services until 60 days after they give birth, but more consistent coverage helps ensure that women are healthy before they become pregnant and that they receive early prenatal care. Other health law provisions will make inroads as well, according to Sonfield, who authored a Guttmacher brief on pregnancy-related services shortly after the law passed in 2010. Maternity and newborn care is now required coverage in plans sold on the individual and small group markets. A range of preventive services must be provided free of charge to pregnant women, including folic acid supplements, smoking cessation counseling, screening for gestational diabetes and prenatal care.