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Maternity & Family Benefits

Solving Maternity Care Deserts Requires All Hands on Deck

January 7, 2021

Seven million women of childbearing age in the US, 35% of whom are women of color, live in “maternity care deserts,” or areas where health care systems do not offer obstetric care, birthing services or specialized providers. This is according to a new report from March of Dimes, a non-profit organization leading the fight for the improved health of all moms and babies.

About 35 percent of all U.S. counties (1,095 counties) were identified as maternity care deserts by the report, which make up approximately 500,000 annual births. 

Without access to routine and quality health care, these moms and babies have an increased risk of serious health complications, including maternal and infant mortality and morbidity, as well as low birthweight and preterm birth. 

We were recently able to survey 14,000 pregnant women in the US to evaluate the effects that the current health pandemic is having on the way women are receiving care. Our findings, which were featured in the March of Dimes September Report, emphasized how effective digital health solutions and telehealth can be utilized to support prenatal and postpartum care.

Following the sobering findings of the March of Dimes report, we hosted a webinar with March of Dimes Chief Medical and Health Officer, Dr. Rahul Gupta, to discuss maternity care deserts and why our healthcare system is failing 7 million women every year. Dr. Gupta expanded on vital aspects of the report and emphasized how employers, health plans and policymakers must work together to increase access to services that are designed to fill gaps in maternity care.

Below are 4 key takeaways from our conversation with Dr. Gupta, followed by some additional resources and actions we encourage everyone to explore.

  1. One-third of maternity care deserts are based in metropolitan areas, while two-thirds are in rural areas. This means that regardless of geographic location, women in America aren't getting the care they need and with hospitals currently closing or overwhelmed, maternity care deserts can be found all across the nation. 
  2. Addressing the health inequities faced throughout our nation is just as fundamental as addressing maternity care deserts. This is why expanding awareness and access to birth centers, doulas, and midwives is critical as they are uniquely positioned to provide critical support that women in under-resourced areas need.
  3. Early-identification is extremely important but traditional risk identification methods are failing women. Someone dies from childbirth or complications every 9 hours in the U.S. and, according to the CDC, 6/10 deaths are preventable. Identification doesn't need to happen in-person and evidence-based digital solutions have proven to effectively identify and intervene with high-risk conditions virtually.
  4. The current pandemic has exacerbated the lack of access to quality care but has also presented key opportunities for health plans, employers, providers and policy makers to collaborate and establish a new approach that centers the patient, and not the healthcare system. 

As Dr. Gupta stressed during the webinar, “we are able to do something to address this despicable mortality and morbidity crisis and early diagnosis is extremely important.” This applies to us all: health plans, employers, providers, policy makers, and health technologies like Ovia.

Our nation is experiencing a national maternal and infant health crisis, which is disproportionately impacting moms and babies of color. We urgently need to increase access to care, eliminate health disparities, and address preventable conditions to drive health and social equity. 

We must also work to address the systemic health disparities that exist in our nation and find real solutions for the seven million women living in maternal care deserts. We can start by accelerating and mobilizing virtual services, like telehealth and peer-to-peer support services, to provide vital aid to women living in these deserts.

You can view the full report here or download our conversation with Dr. Gupta here. We also urge everyone to visit BlanketChange.org to learn more about March of Dimes’ latest campaign demanding nationwide changes in support of these issues.