Supporting Non-Hospital Birthing Options: Employer Strategies to Improve Quality
May 23rd, 2022
Maternal infant health outcomes in the U.S. remain the worst among high-income countries, and Black women in the U.S. are nearly three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women are. Additionally, U.S. women of reproductive age are significantly more likely to have problems paying their medical bills or to skip or delay needed care because of costs.
To underscore the high costs disproportionate to the poor maternal health outcomes, the cost of maternity care represents American employers’ second-highest annual health care expenditure – $1 in every $5. Faced with unacceptable results, employers are looking for pathways to improve maternal health care quality, affordability and the overall patient experience.
Improving Quality and Lowering Costs
Consumer surveys have shown that more patients are seeking non-hospital, community-based childbirth options, such as midwives, doulas and birth centers. This is particularly true for birth participants of color who are looking for alternatives to the hospital-physician childbirth experience.
Recent CDC 2020 vital statistics data mirror what we have seen from consumer surveys. Although overall births declined, in 2020 the number of births in birth centers nearly doubled. This is a significant indication that more women want choice in their maternity care team and care location and that more families, when given a choice, are seeking a non-hospital childbirth option.
Non-hospital maternity care options can help to address the problem of high-cost, low-quality care. Evidence shows the use of midwives improves overall maternal and infant health and decreases the cost of maternity care. In fact, research shows that collaborative care led by certified nurse midwives can result in 22% fewer primary C-sections. It also helps address a growing shortage of perinatal health providers. Despite these benefits, however, certified nurse-midwives are vastly underutilized, delivering only 9% of babies nationally.
A birth center is a midwife-led childbirth facility that offers individuals and families a more natural, lower intervention and less medicalized childbirth experience. Birth centers are freestanding facilities and separate from acute obstetric or newborn care where care is provided in the midwifery and wellness model of care. Birth centers typically have relationships with other community health providers and arrangements with other facilities, such as hospitals, for transfers to other levels of care when needed.
The CMS Strong Start program demonstrated that women who received prenatal care in birth centers had better outcomes and lower costs. This included lower rates of:
- Preterm births
- Low birth weight
Additionally, costs were more than $2,000 lower per mother-infant pair during birth and the following year for women who received prenatal care in birth centers.
How Purchasers Can Support Non-Hospital Options
Employers know that improving maternal health outcomes in the U.S. and reducing disparities will require changes to the existing system of care to make it more patient centered. Here are three ways employers can influence the health system and health plan leaders’ perspectives to address the barriers preventing birth center expansion, collaboration between hospitals and birth centers and access to midwives:
- Benefit design: Benefits programs can be designed to expand access to midwives and birth centers. For example, eBay has started covering out-of-network midwives at in-network rates to improve access to community providers.
- Payment and contracting: By paying for care differently and moving towards value-based payment rather than fee-for-service models, employers can greatly improve access to high-value facilities such as birth centers. A simple birth center bundled payment model would allow all prenatal, labor and delivery and postpartum care provided by the birth center to be captured under one claim/invoice. A bundled payment project with Qualcomm produced valuable lessons learned that could benefit other employers pursuing a bundled payment option.
- Quality improvement: In the event of a transfer from a birth center to a hospital, the transfer process is smooth and respectful for the patient and their family. PBGH is leading a project in California to establish a model to inform procedures regarding transfers.
In response to the lack of comprehensive, coordinated care and the overmedicalization of childbirth PBGH has developed several strategies to help employers impact their maternity marketplace.
A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action
November 18th, 2021
“We’ve talked long enough. It’s long past time to take action. Our goal is to foster meaningful, widespread change in health care within three years.” – Elizabeth Mitchell, CEO of PBGH
Large employers and health care purchasers have increasingly begun to take actionable steps to strengthen primary care, the critical precursor to a high-quality, cost-effective health care system.
Extensive research and pilot programs over multiple decades have repeatedly shown that a robust, integrated and accountable approach to primary care—characteristics collectively defined as advanced primary care—can significantly reduce overall health care costs while improving patient outcomes and experience.
Efforts by the nation’s largest employers to transform health care reached a major inflection point this fall when nearly 200 employers gathered with their health plans and health care provider partners from across the country at the PBGH Primary Care Payment Reform Summit. The event created a platform during which employers collectively conveyed their readiness to implement tools designed to induce payers and providers to deliver the same levels of value and quality they routinely expect from other vendors, and their commitment to investing in advanced primary care with integrated behavioral health and a commitment to equity.
Here are 5 key takeaways from the summit about what large employers and purchasers want from their health care vendors:
1. Employers have long accepted poor value for their health care dollars in ways they never would for any other product or service.
Employer-sponsored health plans routinely pay 200-600% times the rates charged to Medicare and effectively provide most of the profit margin for both health plans and providers without visibility into the quality of care their employees receive. Years of provider and insurer consolidation means even the largest employers tend to lack enough employees in any market to exercise adequate leverage to compel greater transparency and accountability.
2. Purchasers feel they’ve given health care stakeholders ample opportunity to reform the care payment and delivery system.
Industry efforts to transform health care have largely failed due to a lack of shared alignment and goals, a fragmented care system, the continued reliance on fee-for-service and the industry’s resistance to change. Now purchasers are collectively taking action to improve value and quality. Read more about what purchasers are doing right now in the full report.
3. Point solutions are making fragmentation worse and threaten to further increase costs.
To better serve members and reduce costs, many employers are turning to third-party vendors for singular, or point, solutions that address specific care functions or services. While many of these new, often digital capabilities are useful in isolation, they’re collectively making worse the already substantial problem of fragmentation and complexity across the care continuum. Many are also backed by venture capital firms seeking maximum profit potential and hence have little incentive to reduce the overall cost of care.
4. Integrating behavioral health into primary care is vital.
Mental health has been a top priority for employers for many years, and the urgency has only increased during the pandemic. Mental health care is hard to access and of variable quality, but mental health care is primary care and needs to be part of advanced primary care practice. Evidence shows that integrating behavioral health services into primary care can enhance mental health care access and coordination, improve outcomes and reduce overall costs.
5. Achieving lasting change will require that purchasers pull together to achieve critical mass.
Employers today have an opportunity to leverage their immense buying power to promote fundamental change in how health care is accessed, purchased and delivered. But even the biggest purchasers in the country lack leverage in most markets. Change on this scale cannot occur unless purchasers work in concert in every region in the country. Only by collectively setting high standards and demanding change can employers hope to overcome the existing system’s enormous inertia.
The Time to Act is Now
Employers want to buy the best health care benefits on behalf of their employees. But they understand better than most how costly and dysfunctional our health care system has become. They provide the critical lifeline of health insurance to about half of Americans, and they grapple every day with ways to keep coverage affordable.
Read the full report A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action: 5 Takeaways from the PBGH Primary Care Payment Reform Summit here.
See more about the PBGH Primary Care Payment Reform Summit here.