Prenatal and postpartum care programs are not only a benefit for employees who are expecting, they can also help employers avoid unnecessary costs related to preterm births.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, preterm births reached 450,000 in 2012; this equates to one of every nine infants born in the U.S. being delivered before the 37-week mark. Overall, preterm births charged $25 billion to the U.S. health care system in 2005.

A new program from UnitedHealthcare aims to educate employees on the importance of full-term pregnancies and reward them for attending prenatal, postnatal and well-baby appointments. Baby Blocks is a mobile, interactive incentive program currently available to self-insured companies with more than 5,000 employees.

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Users access interactive “baby blocks” via the mobile Web app on their iPhones and Android smartphones. They can use the app to track their prenatal visits, and earn rewards for following a prenatal and postnatal visit schedule. Users receive email appointment alerts and wellness-related text messages, can connect directly with maternity nurses and earn rewards for keeping the appointments. Rewards include gift cards to retail outlets and maternity-related items such as teething rings, diaper bags, and thermometers.

 “From an employer’s standpoint, what it really means is that it’s healthier pregnancies, lower incidences of higher problems arising out of pregnancy or neonatal incidences,” says Dr. Vidya Raman-Tangella, vice president of UHC’s Innovation Resource Group. “And to keep the mother and the baby healthy, and keep them engaged in prenatal care, and improve both outcomes and cost – that’s a huge plus.”

The March of Dimes Foundation found that the cost of prematurity and complicated deliveries to large employer health plans were drastic. Despite health plans paying out the majority for newborn care costs, a significant portion of out-of-pocket expenses are passed on to the mother. A 2008 report also finds that the average health care costs for premature or low birth-weight infants was more than 10 times as high as those for uncomplicated pregnancies.

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Another crushing impact for employers is the length of inpatient stays for delivery and the year following birth; this was around 14.2 days for complicated pregnancies, which is 12 days more than for healthy deliveries, the March of Dimes report says.

“Whether she is going through a healthy pregnancy or a slightly risky pregnancy, she has a whole host of support and resources that are available to her [with Baby Blocks], and at a time that is very relevant,” says Raman-Tangella.

For HR and benefit decision-makers, the implementation for employees is “turnkey,” Raman-Tangella says. UHC handles all communication and promotion and partners with employers and assists with electronic brochures and newsletters. This is done during open enrollment and continually throughout the year as needed.

See also: Aeropostale launches maternity program

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