By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – Dr. Michael Fine, director of the R.I. Department of Health, received the 2013 March of Dimes Virginia Apgar Prematurity Campaign Leadership Award on June 18.
Rhode Island was one of five states – including Colorado, Delaware, New York and Wyoming – to receive the award for its efforts in reducing its preterm birth rate by more than 8 percent since 2009.
As a result of this effort, more than 100 fewer babies in Rhode Island, saving $7.5 million in medical costs, according to Betsy Akin, director of the March of Dimes New England Collaborative. The state’s preterm birth rate dropped 8.8 percent between 2009 and 2011, decreasing from 11,421 in 2009 to 10,940 in 2011, according to the R.I. Department of Health statistics.
The award was presented as part of the ceremony honoring Larry Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, as the local 2013 March of Dimes Citizen of the Year.
Before the ceremony, Merlo and Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the national March of Dimes, toured the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Women & Infants Hospital, where 73 newborns were currently receiving care, according to Dr. James Padbury, chief of pediatrics at the hospital, who led the tour.
The facility features a medical home model of care administered by a multidisciplinary team, an innovative program initially funded in 2006 by the March of Dimes, with an $18,000 community grant, according to Howse. The program also received support through two $105,000 grants from the CVS Caremark Charitable Foundation. Altogether, CVS has given nearly $300,000 to assist the family support program. The program then received a $3.2 million innovation grant from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
“As an organization, we think a lot about helping people on their path to better health,” Merlo told the Providence Business News. “Our philanthropic focus has the theme of ‘All Kids Can.’ So, there’s a wonderful match in terms of the terrific work being done here and how that aligns with our purpose as a company.”
Constance A. Howes, president and CEO of Women & Infants, praised the relationship the hospital has developed with both The March of Dimes and CVS. “We’ve been blessed,” she said, during the tour. “The money that started this program, it fueled innovation, it’s a key element of our success, because there’s no place else to get that kind of start-up money on a new project to demonstrate that something works, and then expand it.”
Howes and Howse both praised the leadership of Fine, who they said had been on the front lines as part of the R.I. Taskforce on Premature Births, convening stakeholders.
The task force has been “shining example” of how public and private partnerships can drive real change in the state,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, which has been a member of the task force since its inception. She that the state’s efforts “to improve access to primary health care, to educate providers and improve screening, to expand home visiting programs, and to reduce the use of tobacco and other substances by pregnant women have given us the momentum we need to continue to decrease it even further.”
Ironically, the state’s commitment to reducing preterm births may have taken a step backward with the newly announced FY 2014 budget announced by the House Finance Committee on June 18. The budget seeks to strip 6,500 parents from RIte Care coverage under the state’s Medicaid plan, forcing them to buy health insurance on the R.I. Health Benefits Exchange, which many may not be able to afford, according to Jane Hayward, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Health Center Association.
The proposed cuts would roll back income eligibility for coverage from $34,177 to $25,975 for adults for a family of three. “For low-income working families, any additional monthly expense is a challenge to meet,” Hayward said.
The risk of premature births in Rhode Island is doubled for women who do not have health insurance, according to R.I. Department of Heath statistics. Women with no health insurance had a 21.9 percent rate of preterm births between 2007 and 2011, more than double the rate of preterm births for women with private health insurance (10 percent) and almost double the rate for women with RIte Care or Medicaid (12.3 percent).