BCBSIL’s approach underscores the critical role that payer partnerships with community-based organizations can play in reducing maternal care disparities.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) is tackling maternal care disparities in its state by financially supporting community-based interventions that focus on increasing education among new mothers and providing in-person and digital support.
“By taking a holistic approach to supporting prenatal care that considers the social and economic factors impacting the health of mothers and newborns, we are working to help create an environment that fosters access to affordable benefits, equitable care delivery and wherever possible, better health outcomes,” said Anita Stewart, MD, medical director at BCBSIL.
“We believe these types of early interventions can make a positive impact on the health of the next generation of Illinoisans.”
The payer is distributing $350,000 to six different community-based organizations that serve Chicago’s south and west side neighborhoods.
These programs provide a range of services in an area with strong racial care disparities for mothers. Maternal pregnancy-related mortality in Chicago is almost six times higher among Black women than White women, and Hispanic mothers are twice as likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than White women, a recent study showed.
One of the community-based organizations that will receive BCBSIL funding is a home visiting program intended to support young mothers ages 14 to 25 which offers assistance from pregnancy through early childhood.
Another program provides on-call doulas for birth and postpartum support, a critical service in an area that has been suffering hospital closures during the pandemic.
EverThrive Illinois will also receive funds for its canvassing, presentations, and train the trainer seminars that seek to prevent maternal morbidity and increase awareness. Also, the Women’s Care Consulting LLC will receive financial assistance to continue serving women in the Chicago area through early pregnancy and postpartum telehealth and counseling.
Outside of these six community-based organizations, BCBSIL is also partnering with the CenteringPregnancy program. The payer will provide funding to bring Centering Pregnancy to federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) in Illinois. The program aims to educate and offer social support to women who are in the same stage of pregnancy.
Other programs that will receive funding extend access to virtual pregnancy programs and virtual community baby showers that include giveaways and educational resources.
The payer also offers special benefits for members, depending on their health plans.
For example, the Special Beginnings program educates and supports women during pregnancy and through six weeks after giving birth.
Through this program, soon-to-be mothers can receive a healthy pregnancy calendar, educational videos, information about physical and emotional changes to expect for the mother and child, and screenings and vaccines to receive.
Another program—Women’s and Family Health program—supports women who are trying to get pregnant by helping identify potential high-risk pregnancies. Once identified, Women’s and Family Health program offers support via telephone and through self-guided, online courses about healthy food choices, body changes, and labor.
Studies demonstrate that postpartum healthcare coverage is critical to ensuring that new mothers have access to pregnancy care and education and to diminishing care disparities as well as adverse patient outcomes.
Value-based care agreements can also help improve maternal healthcare and racially-driven care disparities. For example, certain payers offer financial incentives for providers in certain regions to help improve women’s healthcare and maternal care in those areas.
Other payers have homed in on using digital healthcare tools to support new mothers. In 2019, UnitedHealth Group provided $1.1 million in funding to the National Center for Primary Care to support its goal of lowering maternal mortality by improving access to diabetes care.
There are many ways that payers can help reduce maternal care disparities, but one consistency is that it often involves supporting community-based organizations in addressing educational and access to care barriers.