May 1, 2024 - News

The financial toll of poor maternal care

Illustration of a pregnant woman wearing a hospital gown with a pattern of exclamation marks on it.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Bad outcomes from pregnancies cost Arkansas an estimated $1.8 billion in 2020, according to a new report from Bentonville nonprofit Heartland Forward.

Why it matters: Aside from the immeasurable toll of the loss of lives, a lack of investment in maternal health care has drastic implications for the economy.

How it works: Pre-pregnancy health problems like obesity and diabetes, along with a lack of access to maternal health resources, contribute to high medical costs during and after pregnancy, according to the report. So do unplanned pregnancies and mental health challenges like substance abuse.

  • Additionally, lost wages from the premature deaths of moms and infants have a monetary cost. Complications during childbirth can also affect a mother's ability to work or cause her to need disability benefits.

What they found: Low health literacy in low-income populations can lead to a lack of urgency in preventing or treating health issues, making them more costly down the road.

  • People also miss appointments because of transportation struggles, work (including because of no paid maternity leave) and lack of child care for those who already have children.

Zoom out: Negative pregnancy outcomes cost the nation about $165 billion in 2020, according to the Heartland Forward report.

Heartland Forward's recommendations:

  • Advocating for community health workers, who can visit patients at their homes and offer educational resources.
  • Expanding access to telehealth — including affordable access to high-speed internet — to help residents of rural areas.
  • Addressing health care workforce shortages, including recruiting and training doulas and midwives. Heartland Forward will also launch a workforce pilot in southeast Missouri to incentivize and train more nurses.
  • Increasing transparency through data collection and evaluation, in part to inform policymakers.
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