‘Birthing friendly’ hospitals: HHS plans to recognize providers

Consumers will be able to see which hospitals have the best outcomes. The Biden administration says it’s part of an effort to reduce maternal mortality.

In the near future, some hospitals will be able to earn the federal government’s designation of “birthing friendly.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services offered more information this week about plans to identify “birthing friendly” hospitals as part of the federal government’s efforts to reduce maternal mortality. President Joe Biden's administration first announced plans to offer such a designation in December.

With the new "birthing friendly" designation, consumers can look for hospitals that have shown their commitment to excellent maternity care, CMS says.

It will still be a little more than a year before consumers will see the first designated “birthing friendly” hospitals. But hospitals are compiling data to submit to CMS for consideration of the recognition.

Hospitals will soon submit data affirming their capabilities in providing safe, top-notch maternity care. Hospitals will have to attest that they have implemented best practices in safety and health equity in treating pregnant and postpartum patients. The CMS began the reporting period in October 2021.

Hospitals will submit their data to the government for the first time in May 2022. This fall, the CMS plans to publish the maternity data covering the period of October to December 2021.

In the fall of 2023, the CMS plans to post the results of those hospitals earning the “birthing friendly” designation for the first time.

“Everyone deserves access to quality health care, especially as they start a family,” Health & Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

“At HHS, we are proposing the ‘Birthing-Friendly’ hospital designation and working with states to provide a full year of postpartum care to ensure all parents have the best care they need – before, during, and after a pregnancy,” he said. “We will continue to deliver on the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to reduce racial disparities, including those we see in maternal health outcomes.”

The Biden administration also said Wednesday that 11 states are moving to provide postpartum care for a full year after delivery. Four states - Illinois, New Jersey, Virginia, and Louisiana - currently offer Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage for 12 months after pregnancy.

The CMS said it’s working to move to a year of postpartum coverage with the District of Columbia and these 11 states: California, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. Funding to expand coverage is available as part of the American Rescue Plan.

CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure encouraged other states to offer 12 months of coverage after pregnancy.

“Improving maternal health outcomes—particularly among underserved communities—is a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration,” Brooks-LaSure said in a statement. “To advance health equity, we must integrate it into our programs, and that’s why we are seeking to measure hospital maternity care quality.”

Vice President Kamala Harris led the first-ever Cabinet meeting on maternal health Wednesday. The White House also announced other steps as part of Black Maternal Health Week.

This summer, CMS will convene healthcare industry stakeholders to discuss ways to improve health outcomes for pregnant women and postpartum patients. The health department is also awarding $16 million for a home visiting program in eight states.

In addition, the health department is publishing a best practices guide on using telehealth to help improve care for women who are pregnant and postpartum patients. Telehealth services can help support services such as lactation consulting and screenings for postpartum depression, the administration says. (It will be available at telehealth.hhs.gov.)

The Biden administration also launched a collaborative effort last fall to improve the health of mothers and their babies. The health department announced the participation of more than 200 hospitals in the HHS Perinatal Improvement Collaborative.

The collaborative will examine the health data of newborns and their mothers to understand what’s leading to preventable health risks and deaths. Hospitals will also study whether maternal morbidity and health problems are tied to long-term health challenges for their children.