RISE looks at recent headlines concerning social determinants of health (SDoH).

HHS to expand access to care to improve maternal health outcomes

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced plans to expand access to continuous and preventive care in rural areas to improve maternal health.

A recent data brief found that more than half of pregnant women in Medicaid experienced a coverage gap within the first six months post-partum, leading to periods of uninsurance, delayed care, and less preventive care. The American Rescue Plan will allow states to more easily extend Medicaid postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra announced a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) which will provide $12 million over four years for the Rural Maternity and Obstetrics Management Strategies (RMOMS) program to allow recipients to “test models to address unmet needs for their target population.”

Illinois is the first state to request testing extended full Medicaid benefits to women for 12 months, which the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid approved and made effective April 12, 2021 through December 31, 2025.

“Improving maternal health outcomes–particularly among Black women— is priority for the Biden administration and for the Department,” said HHS Secretary Becerra in the statement, which was released during Black Maternal Health Week. “Expanding access to health insurance coverage, preventative care and investing in rural maternity care is one step forward. With the American Rescue Plan, President Biden gave states tools to combat the racial disparities in pregnancy-related deaths by providing an easier pathway for states to ensure mothers access to the care they need after birth. Continuous health care coverage reduces health care costs and improves outcomes. By expanding Medicaid eligibility for a full year after delivery, Illinois is setting an important model for other states across the country to follow.”

Illinois projects the extension of benefits to provide approximately 2,500 women with incomes up to 208 percent of the federal poverty level with 12 months of continuous Medicaid coverage annually.

Blue Cross Blue Shield announces National Health Equity Strategy to reduce racial disparities

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) announced its National Health Equity Strategy to address the racial health disparities crisis. BCBSA set a public goal to reduce racial disparities in maternal health by 50 percent in five years.

To provide guidance in efforts to close the gaps in health equity, BCBSA organized a national advisory panel of nine handpicked members comprised of doctors, public health experts, and community leaders.

 “Your health shouldn’t depend on the color of your skin or the neighborhood you live in,” said BCBSA President and CEO Kim Keck. “The crisis in racial disparities in our country’s health care is unconscionable and unacceptable. While BCBS companies have made great strides in addressing racial health disparities in our local communities, there is so much more to be done.” 

The National Health Equity Strategy will include data collection to measure disparities, the scaling of effective programs, collaboration with providers to improve outcomes and address unconscious bias, community partnerships, and influence on policy decisions at the state and federal levels. The strategy will focus on the four conditions that disproportionately impact communities of color, including maternal health, behavioral health, diabetes, and cardiovascular conditions. In 2021, BCBSA plans to direct focus first on maternal health and then behavioral health.

To meet its goal of reduced racial disparities in maternal health by 50 percent in five years, BCBSA will rely on the collaboration of BCBS companies that currently have a variety of maternal health programs to support women of color throughout their pregnancies.