Healthcare Unaffordability Common for Pregnant/Postpartum Women

Roxanne Nelson

November 03, 2021

Financial hardship remains prevalent among pregnant and postpartum women, despite the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to new findings published in JAMA Network Open.

Nearly a quarter (24%) of pregnant and postpartum women reported having unmet health care needs, 60% had health care unaffordability, and 54% reported general financial stress. Notably, the type of insurance was associated with the ability to afford health care.

Those with private insurance, along with women with lower incomes, were more likely to experience unaffordable health care, compared to those covered by public insurance or who had higher incomes.

Senior study author Michelle H. Moniz, MD, assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, was surprised by multiple study findings. "The prevalence of financial hardship overall, and the three individual indicators of hardship, did not change over time from 2013 to 2018," she said. "The ACA was enacted just prior to the study period, and while this policy had many benefits for women – especially around increasing insurance coverage – it does not seem to have improved financial hardship among pregnant and postpartum women."

She emphasized that two groups were at the highest risk of health care unaffordability: those with private insurance and those living on low incomes. "This is notable, as we often think of private insurance as offering 'Cadillac coverage,' but our prior work suggests that privately insured women have strikingly high out-of-pocket costs for pregnancy and childbirth-related care," Moniz said.

These expenses include deductibles, copays, and coinsurance payments, which come to about $4,500 on average. Medicaid plans, in contrast, have exceedingly low out-of-pocket costs for pregnant and postpartum women. "Findings from the current study call for targeted policy interventions to alleviate financial strain and remove financial barriers to health care access for privately insured families," she said. "Similarly, families living on lower incomes were also at high risk of health care unaffordability. This may be because even small out-of-pocket costs, or health care–associated costs, account for a larger share of the family's income."

This finding for lower-income women calls for targeted policy interventions. "Sliding-scale deductibles, for example, are one solution that might mitigate economic hardship and remove cost-related barriers to health care for pregnant and postpartum women," Moniz added.

Health Care Unaffordability High

In this study, Moniz and colleagues evaluated the prevalence of financial hardship among peripartum women over time, and how it was affected by their income level and the type of insurance coverage.

They conducted a cross-sectional study that included peripartum women between the ages of 18 and 45 years who reported being currently pregnant or pregnant in the past 12 months. The women were all participants in the National Health Interview Survey, which covers the period from 2013 to 2018, and the data were analyzed from January to May 2021.

The cohort included 3,509 peripartum women, and was weighted to represent 1,050,789 women, with a mean age of 29 years. In 2018, an estimated 39,017 of 184,018 (21.2%) were Black; 36,045 (19.6%) were Hispanic; and 97,366 (52.9%) were White. In the latter years of the study period, the participants tended to be older, more highly educated, and less likely to lack insurance.

When the authors compared the unadjusted reported financial hardship outcome by each study year, unmet health care need (2013: 27.9% [95% confidence interval, 24.4%-31.7%]; 2018: 23.7% [95% CI, 19.5%-28.6%]), health care unaffordability (2013: 65.7% [95% CI, 61.1%-70.0%]; 2018: 58.8% [95% CI, 53.4%-64.0%]), and general financial stress (2013: 60.6% [95% CI, 55.2%-65.8%]; 2018: 53.8% [95% CI, 47.8%-59.8%]) remained largely unchanged between 2013 and 2018.

When they looked at the relationship between insurance type, income, and financial difficulties, some degree of financial hardship was common across all groups; private insurance: 63.8% [95% CI, 61.1%-66.6%]; with public insurance: 49.9% [95% CI, 46.4%-53.4%]; with no insurance: 81.8% [95% CI, 76.4%-87.3%]; with income < 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL): 65.5% [95% CI, 62.1%-66.9%]; with income at least 400% of the FPL: 49.3% [95% CI,44.7%-53.9%]).

Those without any insurance had the highest odds of reporting unmet health care needs (adjusted OR [aOR], 4.40; 95% CI, 3.23-6.00) and health care unaffordability (aOR, 5.18; 95% CI, 3.49-7.70) compared with women who received public insurance.

But while women with private insurance had lower odds of reporting unmet health care needs (aOR, 0.67; 95% CI, 0.52-0.87), they faced higher odds of reporting health care unaffordability (aOR, 1.88; 95% CI, 1.49-2.36) compared to women who had public insurance.

Those with household incomes of less than 400% of the FPL had higher odds of reporting unmet health care need (aOR,1.50; 95% CI, 1.08-2.08) and health care unaffordability (aOR, 1.98; 95% CI, 1.54-2.55) versus women whose household incomes were at least 400% of FPL. The odds of general financial stress did not significantly differ by insurance status/type or income level.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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