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New Government Designation Aims to Improve Maternal and Infant Health at Hospitals

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A New Factor to Consider

Choosing where to give birth typically comes down to what hospital is most convenient to your home, where your obstetrician practices and your insurance company’s provider network. Now, the Biden administration has given expectant parents another factor to consider: whether their hospital has won the government’s new "birthing friendly" designation.

Most US Hospitals Receive Designation

But don’t worry — a birthing-friendly hospital won’t be hard to find: Most U.S. facilities that deliver babies won the designation, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and March of Dimes data. And that raises some questions about the rigor of the administration’s tests for the designation. "I guess this is a good first start, but it’s a quite weak standard," said Kathleen Simpson, editor in chief of the American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing.

Improving Maternal and Infant Health

The U.S. has far higher maternal and infant mortality rates than similar large and wealthy countries, especially for people of color — and the problem has gotten worse in recent years. In addition, the Supreme Court’s decision in 2022 to overturn Roe v. Wade has increased barriers to abortion in many states, putting even more pressure on the feds to improve maternal and infant health. The White House has made the crisis a priority, with Vice President Harris leading the government’s response.

Birthing-Friendly Designation

The Biden administration has said it’s attacking the problem on several fronts, and the birthing-friendly designation is one of the more visible efforts for consumers. To get the designation, hospitals merely had to attest they participate in a state or national quality collaborative and attest to adhering to "evidence-based care." Some experts argue that this standard is too low and doesn't measure anything significant.

Hospitals in the D.C. Area

In the D.C. area, most major hospitals and health systems that offer maternity care made the list, including Georgetown University Hospital, George Washington University Hospital, Howard University Hospital, Sibley Memorial, MedStar Washington Hospital Center, and Inova Health System.

Positive First Step

Erin Jones, director of legislative and strategic counsel at the March of Dimes, called the birthing designation a "positive first step." She said that persuading hospitals to participate in quality-improvement collaboratives isn’t always easy. The designation, she said, may put pressure on hospitals that aren’t engaged in quality improvement in maternity care to get started.

Continued Efforts

The Biden administration has also successfully pushed states to offer pregnant women continuous coverage under Medicaid, the insurance program for low-income people, for up to a year after delivery. So far, the administration has approved postpartum coverage extensions for 39 states and D.C. Medicaid pays for about 4 in 10 U.S. births.

"It looks like every hospital got the designation, or very close to it," Simpson said.

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