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Nancy  Madsen
By Nancy Madsen May 12, 2013

Birth weights are up, stillbirths down

During his campaign, Gov. Bob McDonnell promised to improve care for the youngest Virginians.

"By maintaining (Medicaid) eligibility for pregnant mothers at current levels and promoting education and care for pregnant mothers, we will reduce low birth weights, stillbirths, and long-term health issues for children who will be enrolled after birth in Medicaid programs," his health care plan said.

Eligibility for Medicaid for pregnant women has not changed during McDonnell's term, remaining at up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. About 49,000 Virginia women covered by Medicaid were pregnant during the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2011, according to the latest Virginia Department of Health records available.

Of those women, 78.3 percent received prenatal care during the first three months of their pregnancies, according to health department records. That's up from 75.1 of the pregnant Medicaid recipients during budget year that ended in mid 2009 -- six  months before McDonnell took office.

Those who got adequate care -- receiving prenatal care by the fourth month of pregnancy and attending at least 80 percent of the recommended total visits -- increased from 71 percent in 2009 to 72.8 percent in 2011.

So there's been a small increase in education and care for pregnant mothers.

The health indicators for newborns have similarly improved. For infants covered by Medicaid, the percentage of those with low birth weight -- defined at about 5 pounds, 8 ounces -- decreased from 10.6 percent in fiscal 2009 to 10 percent in 2011.

The rate of stillbirths by Medicaid patients also declined, from 9.3 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in fiscal 2009 to 7.8 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011.

McDonnell's pledge also included reducing "long-term health issues” for children insured by Medicaid, but did not specify the issues. The Health Department does not keep data for Medicaid recipients on two of biggest health problems facing children, obesity and diabetes. So we are unable to address that part of the promise.

But the health of Medicaid-insured newborns has improved during the McDonnell administration, eligibility for Medicaid has not changed and state has made strides in getting more pregnant women in the system to seek prenatal care. All things considered, we give McDonnell a Promise Kept.

Our Sources

McDonnell for Governor, "McDonnell, Bolling and Cuccinelli Focus on Health Care,” Sept. 10, 2009.

Emails from Jeff Caldwell, spokesman for McDonnell, April 12 and 24, 2013.

Virginia Department of Health, Maternal and Child Health Birth Outcomes by Medicaid Status, Virginia 2001-2011, accessed April 15, 2013.

Interview with Maribeth Brewster, Manager of Risk Communication for the Virginia Department of Health, May 10, 2013.

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