Maternal Health Disparities Have Impact on Employers

Health disparities cost the U.S. economy an estimated $93 billion in excess medical care and $42 billion in productivity losses each year, according to a study from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Altarum.

Maternal health disparities are a costly subset of that overall problem. For example, U.S. employers saw a 50% increase in maternal care spending, according to research from Truven Health Analytics.

Women in the U.S. had a higher death rate from pregnancy and childbirth complications than those in 10 other developed nations, according to a 2018 study from the Commonwealth Fund. Those complications including bleeding disorders, cardiac disease, pre-term births, and the need for cesarean (C-section) deliveries drive up the cost of healthcare for everyone.

A Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) “Health of America” report in 2020 found that between 2014 and 2018:

  • The number of women with pregnancy and childbirth complications increased 31.5%.
  • Postpartum depression cases increased 30%.
  • Women in majority Black communities have a 63% higher rate of serious maternal complications than women in majority White communities.
  • Women in majority Hispanic communities have 32% higher rates of serious maternal complications than women in majority White communities.

“Health disparities are the result of a complex fabric of social, racial and economic injustice—a fabric we can’t unravel overnight, the Health of America report notes.

Public health experts, policymakers, community advocates, providers, payers, industry leaders, and employers are all part of the solution.

Identifying at-risk women, helping them manage their care, addressing underlying social needs that can influence health outcomes, and providing community support to expectant and new mothers can help reduce maternal health disparities, the report states.

Innovative new tools have enabled patients to take a more active role in the management of their own care. This self-directed care, as it is known, is critical to closing these healthcare gaps, said Kelly Brennan, director of Health Promotion and Wellness at Capital Blue Cross.

Capital, she said, is planning to release a maternity management app for eligible members. This tool improves health awareness by allowing pregnant mothers to track their health, get critical health alerts, and access trusted resources.

Many companies, including Capital, support programs that address underlying social needs. Capital works with area food banks and sponsors programs to increase health awareness and job training in underserved populations. It helped deliver COVID-19 vaccinations to 8,500 people throughout the region in 2021.