Headshot photo of Dr. Gina Cuyler, MD, FACP, Vice President

Supporting Better Maternal Health Experiences and Outcomes — For Everyone

Maternal health refers to the health of women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the one-year period after delivery. Maternal health is not only important for mothers, but for babies as well. In fact, three of the top five causes of infant death are actually related to maternal health. A baby cannot be healthy or happy in the absence of a healthy and happy mother. Each stage of maternal health should be a positive and personalized experience, ensuring women and their babies reach their full potential for health and wellbeing. 

Unfortunately, due to factors associated with race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, many women do not have a positive experience, and some women and their babies have poor health outcomes — including death. Poor maternal health outcomes are very clearly part of a larger trend in health equity disparities.

Addressing overall health disparities 

Health disparities can be defined as preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, or violence, or in opportunities to achieve optimal health, that are experienced by socially disadvantaged racial, ethnic, LGBTQIA+, and other population groups, and communities. 

Leaders in the health care industry are joining forces to dismantle systemic structures that have supported a legacy of inequities that continue to negatively impact the health of Americans, especially people of color. Eliminating the barriers to good health requires partnerships between organizations to address racism and the impact of social determinants of health.

Dr. Gina Cuyler, Vice President of Health Equity and Community Investments at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield states:

Health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to attain his or her full health potential where no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.

Existing disparities in maternal care

Race-related health disparities are especially evident in maternal care. In the United States, black women are three times as likely to die in childbirth as white women. This is a wider disparity today than a century ago. U.S. rates of severe maternal morbidity, or SMM, have also been increasing significantly. SMM measures the unexpected outcomes from labor and delivery that can have significant short- or long-term consequences to a woman’s health. 

These disparities in health complications, including death, largely come down to access to care. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 30-40% of Black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Alaska Native women do not get the prenatal care they need.

All women should have access to respectful and high-quality maternity care, free from bias and equitable, ensuring that pregnant moms have what they need for them and their baby to be healthy. 

The path to positive health equity 

At Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, we’re focused on making maternal care more accessible for everyone in our community, as part of our broader health equity strategy. By using three foundational pillars, our health equity strategy will advance work through engagement, education, and empowerment of all stakeholders while leveraging technology, data, and analytics to drive innovation, development of programs and metrics, and policies to lead health equity.

One of these programs, known as Bright Beginnings, provides personalized, one-on-one physical, emotional, and social support for soon-to-be parents, focusing on early intervention and ongoing education.

When any of our members’ families are growing, we want to ensure they have the support they need by helping remove the barriers that hinder a healthy pregnancy or a positive experience. That’s what this program is all about.

A big benefit of the program is that expectant parents have peace of mind knowing they have someone to lean on anytime, anywhere. Bright Beginnings participants can use the free Wellframe® app to keep in touch with their registered nurse care manager, access self-management tools, and find answers to their questions. The Wellframe app also provides access to behavioral health programs, so both parents can address everything from maternity issues and general wellness to anxiety and depression. 

As part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, we are also working to advance its national health equity strategy. This multiyear strategy will focus on four conditions that disproportionately affect communities of color: maternal health, behavioral health, diabetes, and cardiovascular conditions. When care is made more accessible and affordable to all people in our community, everybody benefits.

To refer a current member to the Excellus BCBS Bright Beginnings maternity care program, call 1-877-222-1240.

Additional resources

There are many resources to learn about maternal health.