After a successful initial pilot program, Blue Shield of California is expanding its partnership with Mahmee, a maternal healthcare company, the insurer announced Thursday.
Los Angeles-based Mahmee offers support during pregnancy, birth and postpartum, and focuses on marginalized communities. Each patient has a team of nurses, lactation consultants, doulas, mental health coaches, nutritionists and care coordinators. Patients can communicate with their care team through messages, group sessions and one-on-one appointments. They can also attend support groups and classes. The services are available virtually and in person at one of Mahmee’s clinics in California.
Blue Shield of California — which has 4.8 million members — began offering Mahmee to about 80 members in Sacramento a couple of years ago, with a focus on Black mothers. It is now expanding its test program to eight employer groups, including its own employees. The partnership is part of the insurer’s Maternal Child Health Equity Initiative, which aims to reduce maternal mortality rates, particularly for underserved communities.
The insurer chose to offer Mahmee’s services to more members after seeing positive results from the first round of the pilot, said Jackie Ejuwa, vice president of health transformation at Blue Shield of California. For example, about 24% of mothers in the Maternal Child Health Equity Initiative had a cesarean section, versus California’s average of 32%. In addition, only 4% of mothers had premature births, versus the state average of 12%.
Blue Shield of California was first drawn to working with Mahmee because of its ability to offer both in-person and virtual support, Ejuwa said.
“If I was going through childbirth, I would want that doula in the room with me versus giving me instructions on video,” she said in an interview.
Doulas are trained professionals who provide physical, emotional and educational support to mothers during prenatal, birth and postpartum periods. Research has shown that doulas can greatly improve maternal health outcomes as well. And while Ejuwa said she would prefer an in-person doula, there are times when a virtual doula can also be beneficial, noted Melissa Hanna, co-founder and CEO at Mahmee. She gave the example of one Mahmee patient who had a birth happen faster than expected.
“A member was planning to have in-person doula support and ended up going into labor very quickly. … The doula was not feeling well, so we very quickly routed to assign a backup doula to attend the birthing person and notified the member that the doula was en route,” Hanna said. “The birth progressed even faster at that point and we provided virtual doula support.”
The companies are in a value-based arrangement. They focus on metrics like reducing pregnancy complications, reducing delivery complications and patient engagement, Hanna said.
The expanded partnership comes at a time when maternal mortality rates are on the rise. In 2021, there were 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020, according to the CDC. The maternal mortality rate for Black women is 2.6 times higher than for White women.
“Black maternal health has become a health crisis in this country due to racial and health inequities,” Ejuwa said. “We can go from people with low socioeconomic status all the way to multimillionaires.”
Several other maternal health companies are battling these stats as well. One example is Mae, a startup that provides digital and in-person support from doulas, lactation consultants and pregnancy coaches. Another company is Maven Clinic, which offers virtual support from OB-GYNs, midwives, doulas and other specialists.
Through the Mahmee and Blue Shield of California partnership, Hanna said the goal is to “enhance families’ well-being, joy, and support throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.” They hope to expand the partnership even further by 2025.
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