Health and Fitness

HHS Launches Strong Start Initiative to Increase Healthy Deliveries and Reduce Preterm Births

WASHINGTON, DC—(ENEWSPF)—February 8, 2012.  To help reduce the increasing number of preterm births in America and ensure more babies are born healthy, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced more than $40 million in grants to test ways to reverse that trend, as well as a public campaign to reduce early elective deliveries. 

“Preterm births are a growing public health problem that has significant consequences for families well into a child’s life,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  “The Strong Start initiative will help give expectant mothers the care they need for a healthy delivery and a healthy baby.” 

More than half a million infants are born prematurely in America each year, a trend that has skyrocketed by 36 percent over the last 20 years.  Children born preterm require additional medical attention and often require early intervention services, special education and have conditions that may affect their productivity as adults. 

To tackle this problem, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation will award grants to healthcare providers and coalitions to improve prenatal care to women covered by Medicaid. The grants will support the testing of enhanced prenatal care through several approaches under evaluation, including through group visits with other pregnant women, at birth centers providing case management, and at maternity care homes where pregnant women have expanded access to better coordinated, enhanced prenatal care.  

In addition to preventable preterm births, the Strong Start initiative will also focus on reducing early elective deliveries, which can lead to a variety of health problems for mothers and infants.  Up to 10 percent of all deliveries are scheduled as induced or surgical deliveries before 39 weeks that are not medically indicated. However, any early delivery, planned or spontaneous, can carry medical risks for mother and infant. According to research by organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the March of Dimes and others, elective deliveries before 39 weeks increase the risk of significant complications for mother and baby, as well as long-term health problems. 

As part of the Strong Start campaign, CMS will also work with hospitals across the country that have joined the Partnership for Patients – a national, voluntary effort to improve safety and reduce avoidable harm, including obstetric harm that may stem from early elective deliveries.

“As a nurse, I know the importance of prenatal care and the risks associated with early deliveries,” said CMS Acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. “Through Strong Start we hope to learn the most effective ways to prevent preterm births and to promote those activities across all providers as well as payers, public and private, to improve the health of all mothers and their infants.”

The Strong Start initiative cuts across many agencies within HHS and will involve efforts by the CMS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Services Administration, and the Administration on Children and Families.

HHS will also work with a variety of professional organizations including, the March of Dimes, ACOG, and other organizations.

“The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is proud to partner with the Department of Health and Human Services and the March of Dimes on one of the most certain ways of helping babies get a good start in life:  Delivering no baby earlier than 39 weeks, unless medical or obstetric complications require otherwise to keep mother and child safe,” said Hal C. Lawrence, III, MD, Executive Vice President of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Our joint initiative will help bring this important information to women and physicians across the Nation, and has enormous potential to make a real and lasting change in how we care for expectant moms, and more importantly, how expectant moms expect us to care for them.”

“Premature birth is a serious health problem and the public and private collaboration that will be generated by the Strong Start initiative is the single most important step forward to date in our nation’s prematurity prevention efforts,” said Jennifer L. Howse, President of the March of Dimes. “Working together to eliminate medically unnecessary early deliveries will reduce the emotional and financial burden of prematurity for thousands of families.”

In addition to health benefits, preventing preterm births can save money for the health care system. It is estimated that medical care in the first year of life for preterm babies covered by the Medicaid program averages $20,000 compared to $2,100 for full-term infants.  Medicaid pays for slightly less than half of the nation’s births each year.  Even a 10 percent reduction in deliveries occurring prior to 39 weeks would generate over $75 million in annual Medicaid savings.

Initial funding for Strong Start will be for the delivery and testing of enhanced prenatal care through renewable grants.

For more information on the grants announced today and to learn more about efforts to reduce preterm births and early elective deliveries, please visit: