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Changes in prenatal care timing and low birth weight by race and socioeconomic status: implications for the Medicaid expansions for pregnant women

L Dubay, T Joyce, R Kaestner, G M Kenney
Health Services Research 2001, 36 (2): 373-98
11409818

OBJECTIVE: To conduct the first national study that assesses whether the Medicaid expansions for pregnant women, legislated by Congress over a decade ago, met the policy objectives of improved access to care and birth outcomes for poor and near-poor women.

DATA SOURCES/STUDY SETTING: Data on 8.1 million births using the 1980, 1986, and 1993 National Natality Files. We use births from all areas of the United States except California, Texas, Washington, and upstate New York.

METHODS: We conduct a before and after analysis that compares obstetrical outcomes by race and socioeconomic status for the periods 1980-86 and 1986-93. We examine whether women of low socioeconomic status showed greater improvements in outcomes during the 1986-93 period compared to the 1980-86 period. We analyze two obstetrical outcomes: the rate of late initiation of prenatal care and the rate of low birth weight.

DATA COLLECTION: Natality data were aggregated to race, socioeconomic status, age, and parity groups.

RESULTS: During the 1986-93 period, rates of late initiation of prenatal care decreased by 6.0 to 7.8 percentage points beyond changes estimated for the 1980-86 period for both white and African American women of low socioeconomic status. For some white women of low socioeconomic status, the rate of low birth weight was reduced by 0.26 to 0.37 percentage points between 1986 and 1993 relative to the earlier period. Other white women of low socioeconomic status and all African American women of low socioeconomic status showed no relative improvement in the rate of low birth weight during the 1986-93 period.

CONCLUSIONS: The expansions in Medicaid lead to significant improvements in prenatal care utilization among women of low socioeconomic status. The emerging lesson from the Medicaid expansions, however, is that increased access to primary care is not adequate if the goal is to narrow the gap in newborn health between poor and nonpoor populations.

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