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Healthy Pregnancies, Healthy Babies — Lower Costs

  • Medicaid programs cover the costs of nearly half of all births in the United States.
  • Avoidable pregnancy complications as well as adverse birth outcomes increase costs for the health care system.
  • Two UnitedHealthcare Community & State programs are working to improve birth outcomes while reducing costs by educating pregnant women and encouraging attendance at prenatal appointments.

Encourage Healthy Pregnancy Behaviors to Improve Birth Outcomes and Lower Medicaid Costs

Every year, state Medicaid programs and the Children’s Health Insurance Program cover the costs of nearly half (48 percent) of all births in the United States.1

A recent OptumInsight study looked at more than 1,900 Medicaid-enrolled mothers and the cost of their pregnancy care. The study found that the cost of an adverse pregnancy, such as a preterm birth, can approach $57,000 — nearly seven times more than the cost of a normal or “uncomplicated” birth funded by Medicaid.1

UnitedHealthcare Community & State is working with states and care providers to reduce these costs and, most importantly, ensure the health of Medicaid beneficiaries through two educational and interactive programs: Baby Blocks™ and Healthy First Steps®. These important services could mean the difference between healthy lives and costly complications for women and their babies.

Baby Blocks: Rewarding Attendance

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend timely and frequent prenatal care to reduce the risk of poor birth outcomes. Yet each year, about 29.5 percent of pregnant women do not receive adequate prenatal care.2

To help remedy the situation, UnitedHealthcare launched Baby Blocks in November 2011. The Web-based application uses mobile text messages, email and game-like engagement to remind UnitedHealthcare members to attend appointments during their pregnancies and throughout the first 15 months of their babies’ lives. The program is available to UnitedHealthcare Medicaid beneficiaries at no charge and rewards attendance at appointments with gift cards for clothing and other baby care items.

“We created Baby Blocks to increase the frequency and timeliness of prenatal, postpartum and infant care,” says Brett Edelson, Vice President, Products, at UnitedHealthcare Community & State. “The online, interactive program is both useful and fun, and the incentives help reinforce healthy behaviors.”

As of November 2013, 15,000 members from 12 states have enrolled and 8,000 babies have been born to Baby Blocks participants.

Healthy First Steps: Educating Families

Healthy First Steps is a UnitedHealthcare Community & State maternity case management program designed to improve birth outcomes and reduce neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) admissions. The program uses early identification to:

  • Help women overcome common social and psychological barriers and assist in building a support system.
  • Stress the importance of early and routine prenatal care.
  • Develop physician and patient partnership before and after delivery.
  • Ensure appropriate postpartum and newborn care.

Healthy First Steps is servicing pregnant women across 20 UnitedHealthcare Community & State health plans.

“When you consider that adverse birth outcomes have a 66 percent greater total cost of maternal care than normal births — not to mention the emotional costs experienced by the families — the importance of programs like these cannot be overestimated,” Edelson says, quoting statistics from the OptumInsight study.1

Partnerships and Possibilities

In its 2011 report on the state of health care quality, the National Committee for Quality Assurance reported that:

  • Women who do not have prenatal care are nearly three times more likely to have a low-birthweight infant than women who had care.
  • Women who receive minimal prenatal care are at high risk for pregnancy complications and negative birth outcomes.3

UnitedHealthcare Community & State encourages states and communities to work with us to explore innovative, measurable ways that we can help you address your priorities, including programs designed to improve pregnancy health and reduce costs.

“Baby Blocks and Healthy First Steps are great examples of partnership programs that affect change,” Edelson says. “With Baby Blocks, we’ve already achieved a 30 percent response rate to our mailings and phone calls, with over 50 percent of members continuing the program after baby’s birth.”

View the video on UnitedHealth Group Innovation website to learn more about the Baby Blocks program today.


  1. OptumInsight. “The High Cost of Adverse Birth Outcomes in Medicaid Programs.”
  2. National Center for Health Statistics. “Prenatal Care, Early and Adequate.”
  3. National Committee for Quality Assurance. “Continuous Improvement and the Expansion of Quality Measurement.”