According to new government data, maternal death from childbirth is on the rise in the US, up to 13 deaths per 100,000 live births – 30 years ago the rate was 10 per 100,000 live births. The increase is attributed to several factors, including changes in how deaths are reported in some states, increasing maternal obesity, and a huge rise in the number of c-sections being performed in the US.
At Colorado Health Insurance Insider, we’ve made our position on c-section very clear. We believe that it is a powerful medical tool that can save the lives of mothers and babies if used correctly. But it’s being overused at an alarming rate, and the World Health Organization estimates that half of all c-sections performed in the US are not medically necessary.
Since we know that c-section carries a higher risk of maternal death than vaginal delivery, it makes sense that with more people having c-sections, we see a rise in the number of overall maternal deaths. It has been pointed out that with such a relatively low maternal death rate, an increase of just 50 or 100 mothers dying in childbirth can skew the numbers upward. And yet for the babies who will grow up without a mother, and for the partners who will be raising their babies alone, it is probably little consolation that “only 50 or 100” more mothers died in childbirth compared with a few years ago.
It takes no medical training to become a parent. Although it would be nice if all future parents educated themselves on the risks of scheduled c-sections and medically unnecessary interventions during pregnancy and delivery, I doubt that it will happen anytime soon. People rely on their doctors to give them solid advice and guidance. Since the doctors do have medical training, I hold them accountable for making sure that their patients give birth in the safest way possible. For the vast majority of mothers, this does not involve c-sections.
Health insurance companies have a major role in this aswell. Elective induction of labor and elective c-sections should not be covered by insurance. C-section should be returned to the position of a medical intervention of last resort, one that can save the life of a mother and/or baby in a medical emergency. Insurance companies should pay for it only when it is medically necessary.
If insurance companies stopped paying for elective inductions and elective c-sections, I guarantee that the rate of c-sections in the US would quickly fall to the level of other developed countries (10 – 15% of births, as opposed to the current rate of 30% in the US). Perhaps then we could see our numbers for maternal death in childbirth fall to the levels of the 1970’s – maybe even lower.
There are many steps that need to be taken, and obviously the issue of maternal obesity is a serious one – obesity in the US is a serious issue across the board, not just for pregnancy. But the rate of c-sections needs to be addressed, and the best place to start is with the health insurance companies. They control the finances of birth for the vast majority of Americans, so they could have a significant impact on this situation. Since vaginal delivery is much less expensive than c-section, perhaps the savings could be passed on to all insureds in the form of lower premiums. Just a thought.