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New BCBSA Report Finds Racial, Ethnic Disparities in Maternal Health Complications Rose During Pandemic

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A new report from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) found women of color are at higher risk of pregnancy-related complications, regardless of having commercial health insurance or Medicaid. The data indicates U.S. maternal health disparities are likely the result of broader health system and societal challenges, including underlying chronic conditions, racial inequities, and likely biases within the health care system. Pregnancy-related complications have worsened 9% since 2018, with marked increase during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some women of color at nearly 70% higher risk of pregnancy-related complications than White women.

The study, Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Maternal Health, examined the rate of childbirth complications in nearly 11 million U.S. births to women with either commercial insurance or Medicaid as measured by the CDC’s Severe Maternal Morbidity Measure (SMM).

This comprehensive analysis found Black, Latina and Asian women have higher rates of SMM than White women, regardless of age or type of health insurance. Preexisting health conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes or asthma going into delivery, strongly correlate with higher SMM and worse pregnancy complications, increasing the likelihood of a risky delivery or challenges postpartum. While across all populations women ages 35-44 were identified as most likely to have an SMM event, Black women in this age range have a 66% higher rate of SMM and are more likely to suffer pregnancy-related complications than White women.

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