Let’s face it: the economy sucks right now. We haven’t yet hit rock bottom, and it’s going to be awhile (probably a long while) before things begin to recover. In the midst of this harsh financial reality, companies and industries are scrambling to find ways to save money. Birth activists have been trying for decades to convince this country of the benefits of midwifery based on its safety and track record of better outcomes, not to mention improved client satisfaction, but hey, this is America—the only thing people really pay attention to in this country is the bottom line. So maybe midwifery has finally found the argument it needs to affect actual change. In the midst of one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression, NOW is the time to increase access to midwifery care because it’s excellent care for a heck of a lot less than what we’re currently spending on maternity care.
In early December, shortly after the nomination of Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Big Push for Midwives launched a campaign to get Mr. Daschle to attend a community meeting on midwifery and its advantages. Per the change.gov initiative, discussions on healthcare reform will be occurring around the country between 12/15 – 12/31, and Senator Daschle has promised to attend a few of them in person. Thanks to the Big Push for Midwives, he was invited to several heartland discussions, including this one in Lees Summit, MO. I haven’t been able to find any updates or reports from this meeting yet. I’m not sure if Mr. Daschle was able to attend, but it’s definitley the sort of discussion he (and the Obama administration) should be listening to. (Was anyone actually able to attend that meeting? If so, give us an update, please!! I’ve been searching the internet for reports on the meeting, but I haven’t found any yet.)
As this excellent recent article in the LA Times (Midwives Deliver by Jennifer Block) points out, midwives deliver much safer care for much lower cost:
- The most cost-effective, health-promoting maternity care for normal, healthy women is midwife led and out of hospital. Hospitals charge from $7,000 to $16,000, depending on the type and complexity of the birth. The average birth-center fee is only $1,600 because high-tech medical intervention is rarely applied and stays are shorter. This model of care is not just cheaper; decades of medical research show that it’s better. Mother and baby are more likely to have a normal, vaginal birth; less likely to experience trauma, such as a bad vaginal tear or a surgical delivery; and more likely to breast feed. In other words, less is actually more.The Obama administration could save the country billions by overhauling the American way of birth.
It seems like instead of encouraging midwifery care, the opposite is happening. Birth Centers around the country are closing at a rapid pace, and Medicaid has recently started to resfuse to fund birth center care:
- Over the past few years, CMS (the federal agency that runs Medicaid/Medicare) has begun disallowing federal matching funds for state Medicaid payments for freestanding birth centers services. Birth centers have been recognized by CMS (and earlier, by HCFA) as a Medicaid provider type in State Medicaid Plans since 1987. Recently, however, CMS has disallowed such payment by several state Medicaid Agencies, including Alaska, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington State, claiming that it lacks clear statutory authority and direction to do so. CMS has directed its regional offices to stop federal payments to any state for birth center services.
As this article points out, this is going to cause a huge squeeze on birth centers around the country, and we’ll soon be seeing even more of them close unless something is done. This is an urgent call to action. The AACB has several resources on their website listing ways to contact your senators and let them know about this issue, including using this lovely flyer which lists all of the important talking points you’ll need when composing your e-mail or making your phone call (calls are preferrable, apparently, since e-mail is more likely to be lost in the midst of all the e-mails on the federal bail-out). The reason this is so important is that Medicaid generally sets the standard for insurers. If Medicaid stops insuring birth center care, other insurance companies will follow suit. Birth centers are a crucial link in many communities, providing quality health care to diverse populations (including women on Medicaid – you only have to look at the work of Ruth Lubic and the Morris Heights birth center to appreciate that), and we need to keep as many of them open as possible. Not only does it make great health sense, but it saves money too.
And here’s another great cost-saving suggestion: stop insuring preterm elective cesareans. When I read this article I just about choked. I can’t believe insurance companies are willing to pay for this when research has consistently shown that there are still a lot of complications with “near-term” infants (babies born between 34 – 36 wks) such as respiratory distress, jaundice, temperature instability (hypothermia), delayed brain development and feeding difficulties. Forget the fact that a cesarean delivery is several thousands of dollars more expensive than a vaginal delivery; the real damage in this practice is caused by the increased number of preterm babies and the burden of care they demand. Prematurity and NICU care accounts for one of the largest chunks of healthcare expenditure. Even the March of Dimes is calling for a decrease in preterm cesareans.
I’ve always been consistently amazed that HMOs, managed care systems and Medicaid haven’t latched onto midwifery with more enthusiasm. I wonder sometimes if this is because ACOG and the AMA are able to counteract the economic practicality of midwifery care with a tons of lobby money. The economic angle isn’t anything new. The Business of Being Born said the same thing in 2007, and Michel Odent, Ina May, Naomi Wolf, Suzanne Arms, Robbie Davis-Floyd etc. etc. have been saying the same thing for decades. Maybe in the midst of the recession, the message will finally get through: midwifery care is better AND cheaper.