Choosing where to give birth usually depends on the hospital closest to your home, where your obstetrician practices, and your insurance company’s network of providers.
Now, the Biden administration gave expectant parents another factor to consider: whether their hospital has earned the government’s new “childbirth-friendly” designation.
But don’t worry, it won’t be difficult to find a hospital suitable for childbirth: Most U.S. delivery facilities have earned this designation, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and March of Dimes.. And this raises some questions about the rigor of the tests administered by the administration to obtain the title. “I guess it’s a good start, but it’s a pretty low level,” said Kathleen Simpsoneditor-in-chief of American Journal of Maternal and Child Nursing.
In the Washington, D.C. area, most major hospitals and health systems offering 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.
The United States has much higher maternal and infant mortality rates than comparable large, wealthy countries, especially for people of color — and the problem is even bigger. has gotten worse in recent years. Additionally, 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 federal government to improve maternal and infant health. The White House has made the crisis a priority, with Vice President Harris leading the government’s response.
While the administration has said it is tackling the problem on several fronts, the pro-birth designation is one of the most visible efforts to consumers.
The Biden administration also successfully pushed states to offer pregnant women continued coverage under Medicaid, the insurance program for low-income people, for up to a year after giving birth. So far, the administration has approved expanded postpartum coverage for 39 states and Washington, DC. Medicaid funds about 4 out of 10 births in the United States.
To obtain the pro-birth designation, announced Nov. 8, hospitals simply had to certify that they are participating in a state or national quality collaborative and attest to their adherence to “evidence-based care.”
“That’s the lowest bar they could have set,” Simpson said. “It doesn’t measure anything.”
Simpson had hoped that CMS would use nurse staffing ratios in maternity or neonatal units to help consumers differentiate between hospitals.
“I’m happy to see things happening, but the designation is not something that’s going to make a difference,” she said.
Erin Jonesdirector of legislative and strategic advice at the March of Dimescalled the birth designation a “positive first step.”
She said it’s not always easy to persuade hospitals to participate in quality improvement collaborations. That designation, she said, could put pressure on hospitals that aren’t committed to improving the quality of maternity care to step up.
A CMS spokesperson said 66 percent of approximately 3,100 hospitals that report data to a federal quality review program have earned the designation. But the spokesperson could not say how many of those 3,100 provide obstetric care. Some hospitals across the country, particularly in rural areas, have recently closed their labor and delivery units.
“It seems like almost every hospital has gotten that designation,” Simpson said.
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