Maternal Health

New Funding Opportunity Available for Arizona to Explore Strategies to Reduce Maternal Mortality

A couple of months ago (before the government shutdown happened) landmark federal legislation was passed and signed that will provide millions of dollars to help states determine why women are dying from pregnancy and childbirth at troubling rates.  

The new funding is great news because studies have found that at least half of childbirth-related deaths could have been prevented if health care providers had followed best medical practices to ensure complications were diagnosed and treated quickly and effectively.

The bill provides $12M in annual funding to the CDC to pass through to states with maternal mortality review committees and create committees in the 12 states that lack them.  Arizona has a committee in statute because of a law signed in 2011 - here's a link to the most recent report.

In order to qualify for funding, states need to demonstrate  that their “methods and processes for data collection and review use best practices to reliably determine and include all pregnancy-associated deaths and pregnancy-related deaths, regardless of the outcome of the pregnancy.” All indications are that the ADHS meets these CDC data standards and therefore would qualify for funding.

We and the Arizona Chapter of the March of Dimes will keep an eye out for the grant announcement and offer any assistance that the ADHS needs with their application for this important funding opportunity that can be used to save the lives of Arizona moms.

Maternal Mortality: A Tragic Trend Continues in the US and AZ

The US has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country.  Sadly, it’s getting worse each year.  About 800 American women die and 65,000 almost die during pregnancy or childbirth.

The number of deaths in AZ jumped from around 10 in 2015 to about 30 in 2016 (the last year for which ADHS has data posted). The numbers are rounded for statistical reasons (called cell suppression in the public health statistics trade.)

Nationally, back women die from pregnancy-related causes at three to four times the rate of white women, even after controlling for social determinants. Women in rural areas also have higher maternal mortality rates than urban women.  Here’s a story that highlights some of the issues in an easy to read way.

Fortunately, there are public health policy leverage points that can make a difference within state health departments and Medicaid agencies.  Medicaid is a leverage point because it pays for over half of all births each year in 25 states including Arizona.  

All states provide Medicaid coverage for women with incomes up to 133% of poverty during pregnancy and for 60 days after delivery.  But the scope of services covered before and after delivery vary between states.  As a result, some women lose coverage or Medicaid eligibility in certain states after that 60-day period (mostly in states without Medicaid expansion).

In Medicaid expansion states (like AZ) women have more opportunities to achieve better preconception health because they’re more likely to be able to access contraception and plan their pregnancies, receive primary care services to manage chronic conditions prior to and between pregnancies and access prenatal and perinatal care once pregnant.

Evidence-based policy making is a key.  Twenty-nine states (including Arizona) have committees that review maternal deaths and make public policy recommendations.  Back in 2011, Arizona passed, and the Governor signed a bill that amended our child fatality review statutes by adding reviews of maternal deaths.

The statute charges our existing Child Fatality State Teams to review maternal deaths (called the Maternal Mortality Review Subcommittee) and make policy recommendations. The primary goal is to identify preventive factors and make recommendations for systems change. The existing statute doesn't require an annual report- and the last report was published in 2017. Note: we've heard that there may be a Bill this session that will require an annual report of the committee's work.

Here are some of the recommendations from the most recent ADHS report (published in 2017):

  • All pregnant women should have access to prenatal care;

  • Encourage maternal care professionals, organizations, and health facilities to update their standards of practice and care to include all recommended guidelines for the prevention of medical complications;

  • Promote public awareness of the importance of healthy behaviors and women’s overall health prior to pregnancy;

  • Women should always wear proper restraints when riding in cars;

  • Maternal health-care systems require strengthened, prepared, and educated communities to improve deliveries in health facilities, particularly in rural areas;

  • Increase and streamline access to behavioral health services statewide, including training and education for advanced practice nurses in behavioral health services;

  • Support and implement community suicide prevention and awareness programs, such as Mental Health First Aid;

  • Health care providers should screen frequently for perinatal depression and domestic violence;

  • Institute and follow recommended California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative guidelines (www.cmqcc.org) for the timely transfer and transport to a higher-level care facility for any complications using regional transport services; and 

  • Educate providers on the availability of maternal postpartum resources such as home visiting programs.

Some states have gone further. For example, South Carolina’s Medicaid agency formed the South Carolina Birth Outcomes Initiative to advance reductions in early elective deliveries; incentivize Screening Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment; promote long-acting reversible contraception; and support vaginal births.  One outcome of the SC initiative was to reimburse for long-acting birth control (LARC) devices provided in a hospital setting. 

Fortunately, Arizona has also included LARC reimbursement in a hospital setting post-partum.  This is an important policy intervention because it provides women with a long-acting and reversible option, so they can better plan future pregnancies – improving opportunities for preconception health, which is a key to improving health outcomes.

Recently Passed Federal Public Health Legislation

Congress has passed several bills in the last few weeks related to public health.  Here’s a quick summary and links to the laws.

Improving Access to Maternity Care HR 315

This bill requires HRSA to identify maternity care health professional target areas and publish data comparing the availability of and need for maternity care health services in health professional shortage areas and areas within those areas.

Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2018 HR 1318

This bill authorizes HHS grants to states to review maternal deaths, publish reports with the results.

PREEMIE Reauthorization Act of 2018  S 3029

This bill increases federal research on preterm labor and delivery, improve the care, treatment, and outcomes of preterm birth and low birthweight infants. 

Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 – The Farm Bill HR 2

The Farm Bill reauthorizes food security programs through FY23 including Supplemental Assistance Program (SNAP) and SNAP nutrituon education.  It also removes hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, which would legalize hemp production and therefore changes how CBD is regulated.

State Offices of Rural Health Reauthorization Act: S 2278

This bill reauthorizes $12.5M annually through FY22 for the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy to make grants to each state office of rural health to improve health care in rural areas. This bill was approved by both the House and Senate but is not yet signed.

The Action for Dental Health Act of 2018

This bill provides an opportunity to improve oral health across the country.  The bill will provide additional resources to the CDC to increase funding for groups and organizations to qualify for federal grants that develop programs and expand access to oral health education and care in states and tribal areas

CDC will still need to flesh out the grant guidance in the coming months before they put out their announcement with the application and expectations. 

PEPFAR Extension Act of 2018  HR 6651

This bill extends certain provisions of the U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003.

Sickle Cell Disease Research, Surveillance, Prevention, and Treatment Act of 2018  S 2465

This bill reauthorizes a sickle cell disease prevention and treatment program and to authorizes funding for grants for research, surveillance, prevention, and treatment of heritable blood disorders.

Infrastructure for Alzheimer's Act S 2076

This bill would create an Alzheimer's public health infrastructure across the country to implement effective Alzheimer's interventions focused on public health issues such as increasing early detection and diagnosis, reducing risk and preventing avoidable hospitalizations.

Leveraging State Policy to Reduce Maternal Mortality

The US has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country.  Sadly, it’s getting worse each year.  About 800 American women die and 65,000 almost die during pregnancy or childbirth.

Black women die from pregnancy-related causes at three to four times the rate of white women, even after controlling for social determinants. Women in rural areas also have higher maternal mortality rates than urban women.  Here’s a super-interesting story that highlights some of the issues in an easy to read way.

Fortunately, there are public health policy leverage points that can make a difference: state health departments and Medicaid agencies.

Medicaid finances over half of all births each year in 25 states including Arizona.   All states provide Medicaid coverage for women with incomes up to 133% of poverty during pregnancy and for 60 days after delivery.  But- the scope of services covered and coverage after delivery vary between states.  As a result, some women lose coverage or Medicaid eligibility after that 60-day period (mostly in states without Medicaid expansion).

In states (like AZ, which expanded Medicaid), women have more opportunities to achieve better preconception health because they’re more likely to be able to access contraception and plan their pregnancies, receive primary care services to manage chronic conditions prior to and between pregnancies, and access prenatal and perinatal care once pregnant.

Evidence-based policy making is the key.  29 states including Arizona, have committees that review maternal deaths and make public policy recommendations.  Back in 2011, Arizona passed, and Governor Brewer signed a bill that amended our child fatality review statutes by adding reviews of maternal deaths. This change charged our existing Child Fatality State Teams to review maternal deaths (called the Maternal Mortality Review Subcommittee) and make policy recommendations. The primary goal for the Team is to identify preventive factors and make recommendations for systems change.  

One of the best parts of these review boards is that it is not just public health, but it's other agencies and community docs and corrections and academics all coming together to review these deaths.  Here are some of the recommendations from the most recent report:

  • All pregnant women must have access to prenatal care;

  • Promote public awareness of the importance of healthy behaviors and women’s overall health prior to pregnancy;

  • Women should always wear proper restraints when riding in cars;

  • Encourage maternal care professionals, organizations, and health facilities to update their standards of practice and care to include all recommended guidelines for the prevention of medical complications;

  • Maternal health-care systems require strengthened, prepared, and educated communities to improve deliveries in health facilities, particularly in rural areas;

  • Increase and streamline access to behavioral health services statewide, including training and education for advanced practice nurses in behavioral health services.

  • Support and implement community suicide prevention and awareness programs, such as Mental Health First Aid;

  • Health care providers should screen frequently for perinatal depression and domestic violence;

  • Institute and follow recommended California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative guidelines (www.cmqcc.org) for the timely transfer and transport to a higher-level care facility for any complications using regional transport services; and 

  • Educate providers on the availability of maternal postpartum resources such as home visiting programs.

  • Some states have gone further.  For example, the South Carolina’s Medicaid agency formed the South Carolina Birth Outcomes Initiative to advance reductions in early elective deliveries; incentivize Screening Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment; promote long-acting reversible contraception; and support vaginal births. 

One outcome of the SC initiative was to reimburse for long-acting birth control (LARC) devices provided in a hospital setting. 

Fortunately, Arizona has also included LARC reimbursement in a hospital setting post-partum.  This is an important policy intervention because LARC provides women with a long-acting and reversible option, so they can better plan future pregnancies – improving opportunities for preconception health, which is a key to improving health outcomes.