Backed by health advocates, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi will no longer pay for elective early deliveries.
In a press release Thursday, the insurer announced that starting Jan. 1, hospitals and physicians won’t receive any benefits for inductions and caesarian sections that are performed without medical reason before 39 weeks gestation. The policy does not affect naturally occurring or medically necessary deliveries.
“Here in Mississippi, where our infant mortality and premature birth rates are the highest in the nation, every step we can take to improve chances for healthy babies has a critical impact on the future health of our state,” said Sarah Broom, Blue Cross medical director.
The announcement came with support from the March of Dimes, Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier and the Mississippi section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who have an ongoing campaign to get hospitals and physicians to make sure as many babies as possible get to full term.
“Why take chances on the health of a newborn? Waiting a full term – which is 39-40 weeks – has significant health benefits for moms and babies,” Currier said. “Unless there is a medical reason, there is no reason to induce early delivery.”
The scientific evidence clearly argues against elective early deliveries, said Tupelo obstetrician Ronny Young, who lead the North Mississippi Medical Center Women’s Hospital effort to reduce elective early deliveries. Babies born between 36 and 39 weeks have an increased risk of lung problems and other complications that can require neonatal intensive care.
“It’s the best thing for patient care,” said Young, chief of the NMMC medical staff.
However, the new policy will be a shock to some physicians and hospitals.
“You will have physicians say that this is stepping over the line,” he said.
In Mississippi, the March of Dimes and the state health department have been working with hospitals and obstetricians for three years to voluntarily reduce the numbers of early elective deliveries. Out of 44 birthing hospitals, 38 are participating in the campaign. Ten, including NMMC-Tupelo and Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union County have earned recognition for reducing early elective deliveries.
Mississippi Medicaid, which covers more than half of the births in the state, is reviewing its policies on early elective deliveries, but no information was available Thursday afternoon on when any decisions will be made.
“Our situation is so dire in terms of birth outcomes, change really needed to happen as soon as possible,” said Dina Ray, March of Dimes Mississippi director.
Beyond the better outcomes for babies, decreased early elective deliveries come with tremendous savings on interventions. Federal estimates suggest between 10 and 15 percent of American babies are delivered early without medical cause; Blue Cross said its numbers in Mississippi are consistent with the national estimates.