Women living in states that expanded Medicaid over the past decade were nearly 20% less likely to be hospitalized within 2 months of giving birth, according to a first-of-its-kind study published in Health Affairs.
Researchers analyzed patient records from eight states – four that expanded Medicaid insurance to include a broader swath of residents following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and four states that did not.
Hospitalizations in the 60 days after a woman gave birth fell by 17% in states that expanded Medicaid. The analysis also revealed an 8% drop in hospitalizations between 61 days and 6 months post partum.
“This is a very meaningful decline in hospitalization rates,” said Laura Wherry, PhD, a professor of economics and public service at New York University and a co-author of the study.
Women in states that chose not to expand Medicaid experienced a 7% increase in postpartum hospitalizations during that same time frame, the researchers report.
Many states raised income eligibility thresholds to 138% of the federal poverty level in 2014 with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which resulted in more coverage for low-income expectant mothers. To date, a dozen states have not implemented Medicaid expansion.
Dr. Wherry and her colleague wanted to take a closer look at outcomes for pregnant women during the postpartum period, both before and after states chose to expand Medicaid.
“A lot of prior work looking at the Medicaid program examined huge expansions to cover pregnant women during pregnancy, but often other periods of a woman’s life have been overlooked,” Dr. Wherry said. “What we were interested in is how that changed with the Affordable Care Act. You no longer needed to be pregnant to qualify.”
The researchers analyzed hospital discharge data between 2010 and 2017 before and after expansion in Iowa, Maryland, New Mexico, and Washington, which expanded coverage under Medicaid, and Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Utah, which did not do so.
Prior to 2014, fewer than 2% of births resulted in a postpartum hospitalization during the 60-day period in Medicaid expansion states. But in states that expanded Medicaid, hospitalizations decreased by 0.289 percentage points (P = .052), or 17% during the 60-day post-birth period.
Approximately 75% of the decline was attributed to diagnoses related to complications in pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
Dr. Wherry said a variety of factors possibly drove down hospitalizations for new mothers who were able to obtain Medicaid coverage, including access to robust prenatal care, preconception counseling, and improved management of postpartum conditions outside the hospital.
The study provides a strategy for tackling the rising rate of maternal mortality in the United States, an increase largely attributed to postpartum deaths, said Lindsay Admon, MD, an ob.gyn. at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.
“This is one of the first studies showing or suggesting that Medicaid expansion not only led to improvements in Medicaid insurance but health outcomes as well,” said Dr. Admon, who is also researching maternal health and expanded Medicaid coverage.
Federal law has long required states to provide coverage for pregnant women up to 60 days post partum.
The 2021 American Rescue Act allowed states to extend coverage for pregnant women beyond the federal requirement to a year. More than half of states have chosen to do so. Since the study indicates that Medicaid expansion improves outcomes for these enrollees, Dr. Wherry and Dr. Admon said they hope state officials will consider the new findings during discussions to utilize the Rescue Act Coverage for pregnant women.
Dr. Wherry received support for the study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Policies for Action Program and grant funding from the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Another author received grants from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.