Food insecurity during pregnancy has significant long-term health impacts on moms and babies. Mothers have greater risk of chronic conditions and complications during pregnancy, and infants are more likely to be born early and underweight.
The cost of bringing these fragile newborns into the world strains both area hospitals and the Medicaid program. The delivery for an underweight newborn costs $44,000 more than the delivery for a healthy-weight newborn. These infants are also at considerable risk of being admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit, which, on average, costs $76,000 per stay.
The good news is that our Fresh Rx: Nourishing Healthy Starts program is preventing many of the negative health effects of food insecurity by providing pregnant moms with nutrient-dense meals. Solid data express the connection between a healthy diet and a healthy delivery quite vividly. For example, Fresh Rx participants are less likely to have a low-birth-weight delivery compared to women enrolled in Medicaid in the St. Louis region.
The pilot phase of our Fresh Rx: Nourishing Healthy Starts program showed very promising results: Among 75 babies born to pregnant women in the program, 90% had healthy weights—a 5.3 percentage point improvement over the rate for Medicaid recipients in St. Louis City. In light of this positive phase-one result, we’re partnering with Home State Health and Healthy Blue Missouri, as well as the Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, to launch a randomized control trial of 750 families to determine the impact of the Fresh Rx program on food security and birth outcomes for Missouri women who are Medicaid beneficiaries.
The study group is made up of pregnant and post-partum mothers who are receiving prenatal care through Missouri’s Medicaid for Pregnant Women program. Following screening for food insecurity by the managed care companies administering the Medicaid program, OFS will provide half of the families with a weekly delivery of ingredients to make three nutritious family meals, as well as cooking classes, nutrition resources and supportive services. The other half will receive food and nutrition resources only.
Claims data for the two study groups will be compared with data for nonparticipants and the findings provided to policymakers to help them make informed decisions about the value of addressing food insecurity as a reimbursable health-care expense under the Medicaid program. “We estimate that in St. Louis City alone, if Medicaid-enrolled pregnant women participated in Fresh Rx, an additional 118 babies would be born at a healthy weight each year,” says Trina Ragain, Chief Innovation Officer at OFS. “And the Missouri Medicaid program would save $5.3 million annually.”
To learn more about our Fresh Rx program and to view the draft report from our pilot program, please visit our website.