Column: It’s time to focus on maternal health


Commentary by Dr. Kimberly Roop

Childbirth in the U.S. can be dangerous, compared with other developed nations. Roughly every 12 hours, a woman dies of a pregnancy-related cause, and 60 percent of these causes are preventable. In addition, many babies continue to be born too early, too small or too sick to go home with their families.

These alarming statistics are why Anthem and its affiliated health plans, whose members account for 11 percent of our nation’s births, and the Anthem Foundation, are working to improve maternal and infant health, especially in communities of color where health disparities have a dramatic impact on outcomes. We are working across the country, hand-in-hand with community partners, to drive change.

Most recently, the Anthem Foundation committed nearly $15 million nationwide to support maternal health initiatives that could impact up to 100,000 women. Each initiative will focus on one or more of the following goals: reducing preterm birth rate, reducing maternal morbidity and mortality, and reducing primary cesarean rate. These grants are part of up to $30 million the foundation plans to invest over the next three years to improve maternal health outcomes – generating measurable impact, particularly for socially vulnerable populations.

We know babies of Black moms and Black moms themselves are more likely to die in pregnancy. To ensure our funding reaches the communities in which it is needed most, we are placing an emphasis on programs specifically working to create equity in maternal health care. We are focusing on programs that address racial disparities and biases, address health-related social needs, remove barriers to care and drive specific measurable maternal and child health outcomes.

Every year in the U.S., 24,000 babies are stillborn – 1 out of every 167 pregnancies. For infants of Black moms, that number is even higher at 1 in 94. Improved prenatal education is a preventive action that can help reduce infant mortality. According to the CDC Wonder database, Indiana loses approximately 502 babies to stillbirth each year.

That’s why Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Indiana joined forces with Count the Kicks to empower and educate expectant women about preventing stillbirth by monitoring fetal movement in the third trimester. Research proves the importance of tracking fetal movement, and Count the Kicks encourages moms to get to know the normal movement pattern for their baby by having daily kick counting sessions using the free Count the Kicks app. Kick counting data within the app can be emailed or texted directly to providers — a helpful way to determine the next best steps for mom and baby.

I encourage all expectant moms to download the free Count the Kicks app, which is available in the iOS and Google Play app stores. It provides a simple, non-invasive way to monitor a baby’s well-being every day.

Through approaches like these – which combine data, community engagement, and education – we are working to break down barriers and increase access to high-quality maternal healthcare for women and their babies.

Dr. Kimberly Roop, a Carmel resident, is the Medicaid Plan President for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Indiana. She is specialty-trained in obstetrics and gynecology, is board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology, and is a fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.