Mamas on Bedrest: HHS offers $40M in grants to reduce preterm births!

February 10th, 2012

“To help reduce the increasing number of preterm births in America and ensure more babies are born healthy, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced more than $40 million in grants to test ways to reverse that trend, as well as a public campaign to reduce early elective deliveries.”

Thus begins the February 8, 2012 press release issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services announcing the $40Million grant program, The Strong Start Initiative.  Strong Start is a joint collaboration between Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the Administration on Children and Families (ACF), and outside groups devoted to the health of mothers and newborns. (i.e. The March of Dimes, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the National Partnership for Women and Families, the Society for Maternal and Fetal Medicine, American College of Nurse Midwives, Childbirth Connection, Leapfrog Group, and the National Priorities Partnership convened by the National Quality Forum and others.)

The mission of  The Strong Start Initiative is two-fold:

  1. A test of a nationwide public-private partnership and awareness campaign to spread the adoption of best practices that can reduce the rate of early elective deliveries prior to 39 weeks for all populations; and
  2. An initiative to reduce the rate of preterm births for women who are at-risk for preterm birth and covered by Medicaid through testing enhanced prenatal care models.

According to the HHS press release,

“More than half a million infants are born prematurely in America each year, a trend that has skyrocketed by 36 percent over the last 20 years.  Children born preterm require additional medical attention and often require early intervention services, special education and have conditions that may affect their productivity as adults.

The funds will be awarded to organizations and providers that serve women on Medicaid and will be used to test and implement treatments and protocols that will reduce preterm birth and improve outcomes amongst this population. This is great news for such organizations as Centering Healthcare, CommonSense Childbirth, The International Center for Traditional Childbearing and The Indian Health Services and others which serve large populations of women on Medicaid. These organizations, with their proven methods of prenatal care and lower incidences of complications and preterm births are poised to teach the rest of the health care industry how to provide care to women in a compassionate and culturally sensitive manner all the while improving outcomes.

In addition to preventable preterm births, the Strong Start initiative will also focus on reducing early elective deliveries, which can lead to a variety of health problems for mothers and infants.  Up to 10 percent of all deliveries are scheduled as induced or surgical deliveries before 39 weeks that are not medically indicated. It has been well established that elective delivery before 39 weeks gestation is asssociated with increased complications to both mother and baby in the immediate intrapartum and for many years post partum.  The Strong Start Initiative seeks to significantly reduce the incidence of elective preterm birth and its associated morbidities in mothers and infants.

Finally, The Strong Start Initiative is poised to save money for the health care system. It is estimated that medical care in the first year of life for preterm babies covered by the Medicaid program averages $20,000 compared to $2,100 for full-term infants.  Medicaid pays for slightly less than half of the nation’s births each year.  Even a 10 percent reduction in deliveries occurring prior to 39 weeks would generate over $75 million in annual Medicaid savings. Such savings could be poured back into the Medicaid program to further the health of its recipients and reduce the ever escalating costs of health care in the Medicaid population.


The US Department of Health and Human Services

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation

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