“Strong Start” aimed to prevent premature births
A new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services program aimed at reducing the number of preterm births will offer up to $43 million to agencies and organizations to develop enhanced prenatal care programs, the Department of Health and Human Services announced this week. The “Strong Start” initiative is designed to fund services for 90,000 Medicaid beneficiaries over three years. It will test three approaches, including group prenatal care, case management at birth centers and coordinated services at maternity care homes.
Premature birth is defined as delivery before 37 weeks of gestation. Babies born prematurely are a growing public health problem with significant consequences for families and an estimated cost to society of at least $26 billion each year. HHS claims that more than 500,000 infants are born prematurely in the United States, “a trend that has skyrocketed by 36 percent over the last 20 years.”
Infants born preterm are at greater risk for mortality and many endure a lifetime of developmental and health problems. In addition to enormous medical needs, these children often require early intervention services, special education and have conditions that impact their productivity as adults.
Those eligible for the funds include obstetrical care providers, state Medicaid agencies and Medicaid managed-care organizations. The CMS Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation will administer the grants.
Strong Start also includes an initiative to reduce elective deliveries before 39 weeks. According to HHS, this initiative will test ways to disseminate best practices and support providers in reducing early electives deliveries prior to 39 weeks.