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Early Deliveries Fine for FedEx and UPS – Not So Much for Babies!

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When it comes to the time spent in the womb, letting nature take its course is best for most babies and mothers! The Leapfrog Group, an employer-backed organization that tracks hospital safety and quality, published data last week that showed a national decrease in the rate of deliveries before 39 weeks without a medical reason – from 17% in 2010 to 4.6 percent in 2013! We began collecting this data from hospitals nationwide as part of patient-safety efforts under the affordable Care Act.

Potential complications from early elective deliveries (those scheduled for the convenience of doctors, hospital or mothers) may include more cesarean section deliveries, as well as infant breathing and feeding problems, infections, or even death. The rate of infant deaths in the first year rises by 50% for those early births compared to babies who reach full term (39 to nearly 41 weeks).  Each week of pregnancy increases the likelihood of delivering a healthy baby.

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Unnecessary early deliveries are estimated to increase health care costs by as much as $1 billion annually. Some health insurers have stopped paying for early elective deliveries and many hospitals have adopted “hard stop” policies that ban doctors from scheduling deliveries before 39 weeks without a medical reason. The Midwest Business Group on Health (MBGH) has taken a more proactive role to assure that babies in Illinois are born healthy.  Partnering with the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, CBS2 Chicago, March of Dimes, and the Illinois Department of Public Health, MBGH is working in Chicago and other parts of Illinois to support adoption of preterm birth policies and programs by hospitals, employers, and health plans. According to Larry Boress, President and CEO of MBGH, the main goal is to reduce the number of early elective deliveries in Illinois below the national average.

Funded by United Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, MBGH created a community action plan and built the Illinois Perinatal Quality Collaborative to implement: 1) a standard, statewide performance data infrastructure that publicly reports results; 2) adoption of elective delivery policies aligned with best practices by every maternity hospital; and 3) payment reform that aligns financial incentives with best practice and full term births.

CalendarMBGH’s communications campaign highlights the importance of full term births and uses employer/health plan communications, television and the internet, and to reach women in the community, those covered by employer/health plan benefits, and physicians and hospitals providing maternity care. A toolkit of programs, materials and policies to reduce early elective deliveries in a covered population is being developed for employers. Being early isn’t always the best advice, especially when you are carrying precious cargo!

For more information:

The Leapfrog Group. (2014). Leapfrog Group Cautions Against Babies Being Born Too Soon, Hits National Target.  http://www.leapfroggroup.org/policy_leadership/leapfrog_news/5164214

C. Terhune. Rate of babies delivered early at U.S. hospitals drops sharply. LA Times, March 2, 2014. http://lat.ms/1fLzAvQ

Midwest Business Group on Health. Preventing Early Elective Deliveries – Implementation Phase. http://www.mbgh.org/newitem4/communityintitiativesoverview/newitem1