Advancing Maternal Health Equity in Your Workforce

pregnant women sitting by her laptop computer smiling

Pregnancy is most often a time of joy and anticipation, when families look ahead to a new life entering the world. However, a downturn in maternal health in recent years has emerged as a serious concern.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows significant declines in maternal health — and an increase in maternal death — during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers also found grave racial disparities among pregnant women.

Black women are three times more likely to die during childbirth, at a rate of 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births versus 23.8 maternal deaths for white women. Black women also have a 70% higher risk of severe maternal morbidity (SMM) due to complications during and after pregnancy. 

SMM can cause both short- and long-term health issues, ranging from blood loss and kidney failure to diabetes and heart disease. According to The Commonwealth Fund, approximately 60,000 American women experience SMM each year. It is most common among Black women under age 24 and over 40.

Creating solutions that work

The gravity of maternal health equity has also reached Congress, where a “Momnibus” package seeks to improve pre-, peri-, and postnatal care for women in marginalized communities.This package includes funding for research, antibias training, social determinants of health (SDOH) risk management, and health care workforce expansion. 

But employers don’t have to wait for their group insurance provider or the government to act. Companies can create their own in-house solutions to help minimize disparities and give all moms the opportunity to have a healthy pregnancy. 

The first step is ensuring that maternal health benefits are available to employees who seek to have children. These benefits should be part of a more comprehensive benefits plan that values and encourages women’s health at all life stages. 

Women should strive to find health care providers they trust with all aspects of their health. That means taking time to meet with prospective doctors and choosing the right one based on a comfortable rapport. It may also mean changing providers if patient needs are not met. 

Benefits should be flexible to accommodate the range of different perinatal care and birthing preferences. Some people want traditional, physician-led obstetric care. Others may prefer the services of a doula and midwife as part of their medical team. It’s important to provide a benefits package with a wide-ranging provider network that offers equitable, respectful, and culturally competent care. 

The Highmark Foundation, a private charitable organization, has contributed to the First Steps and Beyond (FSB) program in support of Black mothers and babies. FSB helps meet health-related social needs, prioritizes the reduction of racial disparities, and builds reciprocal relationships to improve the patient experience and reduce infant and maternal mortality. 

Additionally, in-network provider Allegheny Health Network supports CenteringPregnancy®. This nationally recognized model of group prenatal care has proven to lower the risk of preterm birth, reduce the incidence of low birth weight, and increase breastfeeding rates.

A continuum of maternal benefits and support

Maternal health does not begin and end with childbirth. Prenatal and postpartum services are also vital. Prenatal care can help reduce preterm births, while postpartum “fourth trimester” support is essential for physical and mental wellness. 

Maternal care needs span across a wide range of support services, including:

  • Vaccinations, vitamins, and nutritional support.
  • Educational programs for new mothers.
  • Behavioral health counseling.
  • Specialty care for chronic health conditions.
  • Access to community and family support services.
  • Workplace resources for mothers.

Offering workplace resources shows commitment to working mothers. There are simple and meaningful steps employers can take, such as:

  • Encouraging women to take time off for their own health needs, as well as for their family’s needs.
  • Incentivizing underserved women to get care before, during, and after pregnancy.
  • Offering nursing mothers a clean, quiet, private, and comfortable lactation space.
  • Creating an employee Business Resource Group (BRG) for working mothers with children of all ages.
  • Including a maternal health expert on the human resources or employee health team.
  • Ensuring that employees know where to find health insurance plan information and how to make the most of their benefits.

Creating a better future

Benefits must also provide seamless access to pediatric care for babies — and especially for Black babies. According to the Enterprise Equitable Health Institute (EEHI), the same social determinants of health (SDOH) that harm Black moms — food and housing insecurity, lack of maternal health education, lack of transportation, lack of access to quality health care, domestic violence, substance abuse, and other outside influences — lead to higher death rates for their infants. 

At Highmark, we seek to create an equitable future for all mothers and babies — regardless of race, ethnicity, or social status. But, we can’t do it alone. It will take the help of our customers, providers, and government and community partners. Making a difference today can be the catalyst for a better tomorrow. 

Find a plan that fits your business needs

Talk to your client manager today and we’ll help you find the right health plan for your company. 

All references to “Highmark” in this communication are references to Highmark Inc., an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, and/or to one or more of its affiliated Blue companies.