Blue Review
A newsletter for contracting institutional and professional providers

April 2021

New Programs Aim to Reduce Disparities and Expand Care Access for Expectant Mothers and Babies

By: Dr. Derek J. Robinson, M.D., MBA, FACEP, CHCQM, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL)

The U.S. has the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in comparison to other developed countries,1 and the statistics2 are worse for women of color. While these racial disparities persist across economic and education boundaries for pregnant and post-partum women, those living in low-income and remote communities face unique challenges. Illinois Department of Public Health data shows that non-Hispanic Black women are six times as likely to die of a pregnancy-related condition as non-Hispanic white women.3

As part of our effort to achieve health equity, BCBSIL is providing new resources to help improve the health outcomes of pregnant women and their infants in underserved communities across Illinois. This maternal health initiative is one of the ways BCBSIL is reinvesting payments from the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) for providing quality care to Medicaid members.

Community-based Interventions
BCBSIL has announced more than $350,000 in grant funding to six community-based organizations working to improve maternal health outcomes on Chicago’s South and West Side neighborhoods. Here’s a summary of grantees and programs being created or expanded:

  • Catholic Charities – Funding for the Altgeld Gardens Adolescent Parenting Support program will support a pregnancy and early childhood (age 5+) home visiting program to increase access to health care and address social determinants of health (SDOH) for young mothers ages 14-25. The program also sends doulas to homes from the 3rd trimester through 8 weeks postpartum.
  • Chicago Volunteer Doulas – The Doulas for Health Equity program will use the funding to support its birth doulas program, on-call doula program, postpartum doulas support and doula training at the Logan Correctional Center.
  • EverThrive Illinois – The Chicago Collaborative for Maternal Health, led by AllianceChicago and EverThrive IL, implements a community maternal health intervention that brings together health care and community, social service providers, women and their families, and policymakers to help address maternal mortality prevention in Chicago. Grant funds will be used for family education on maternal morbidity and prevention through canvassing, interactive presentations and train the trainer seminars.
  • Melanated Midwives – The Maternal Health Project will use funding to support educational video medicine visits to prenatal and postpartum support during COVID-19.
  • Peaceful Birth Practices – Sisters Circle Too is a 6-week community-based training/mentorship program for women of color specializing in promoting leadership in the field of maternal-child health. BCBSIL funding will help educate providers on the importance of doulas and allowing them access within hospitals.
  • Women’s Care Consulting LLC – The Enhancing Access to Women's Health Care through Telemedicine program will improve availability of telehealth and counseling in early pregnancy and postpartum.

Holistic Group Care
BCBSIL is teaming up with the Centering Healthcare Institute (CHI), a non-profit focused on delivering better health outcomes and improving the care experience for patients and their doctors. Through a three-year grant, BCBSIL will be bringing CHI’s CenteringPregnancy® program to a number of Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) that focus on serving underserved and at-risk populations. CenteringPregnancy is a nationally recognized model of group prenatal care promoting education and social support by bringing together women in the same stage of pregnancy. Family Christian Health Center is the first FQHC to begin implementing CenteringPregnancy as part of BCBSIL’s program expansion. It aims to launch the program this summer after opening its Maternal Child Health and Wellness location in Harvey in mid-April.

Early Interventions
Some programs build on other assistance from BCBSIL to help improve maternal and newborn health. At our Blue Door Neighborhood CenterSM sites, we recently hosted a three-week virtual Pregnancy Program with SIDS of Illinois and a virtual “Community Baby Shower,” featuring interactive games, giveaways, and healthy pregnancy and healthy baby education and resources from a variety of partner organizations. Both programs are being planned again for April 2021. Additional Community Baby Showers are in development for Springfield, Peoria and Winnebago County.

We also offer special programs for our members, depending on their benefit plan. Special Beginnings® provides personal attention and information new mothers may need to care for themselves and their babies during pregnancy and up to six weeks after giving birth. Highlights include:

  • A healthy pregnancy calendar
  • Videos that cover topics such as eating habits, exercise, stress and more
  • Details about each trimester and the physical and emotional changes in mom and baby
  • A list of screenings and vaccines to help prepare for checkups
  • Program support, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., CT

Finally, our Women’s and Family Health program provides access to fertility, pregnancy and parenting resources, including: 

  • Ovia HealthTM apps provide members with real-time, personalized support via in-app coaching, articles, videos, tips, tracking tools and more. The apps include Ovia Fertility, Ovia Pregnancy and Ovia Parenting – all of which are integrated with our internal programs, helping to identify and support high-risk pregnancies and complicated births.
  • High-risk maternity management provides telephone outreach and ongoing support to expectant mothers identified with high-risk pregnancies.
  • Well onTarget® has self-guided courses about pregnancy that members can take online, covering topics such as healthy foods, body changes and labor.

In closing, BCBSIL continues to explore ways to collaborate with health care teams in improving maternal and infant health. In our value-based care programs, we’re supporting efforts to help reduce disparities in severe maternal morbidity by focusing reporting and incentives on the use of best practices in addressing maternal hypertension and hemorrhage. Dr. Anita Stewart, a BCBSIL medical director for Illinois Medicaid initiatives, has championed efforts to end early elective deliveries and is working with hospitals and health systems on quality improvement efforts to reduce avoidable C-sections. It will take a village to improve the health of moms and babies. We welcome your ideas and the opportunity to share success stories.

Learn more about Dr. Derek J. Robinson