At first glance, traditional employer-sponsored health insurance seems to cover the majority of employees’ health needs, including those who are looking to start a family. Since the passing of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, health plans have been required to provide maternity care to companies with 15 or more employees. In addition, 18 states had passed laws over the years that required smaller groups or individual policies to cover maternity benefits.

However, these protections are far from sufficient. Despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world, the U.S. lags significantly behind other high-income countries in maternity outcomes. American women have the highest maternal mortality rate of any high-income country due to poor access to prenatal care, high rates of C-sections, and an increased rate of chronic diseases. Even when insured through their employer, pregnant people and their families face high costs, low quality of care, insufficient or no paid leave, and a lack of access to specialized, culturally competent care before, during, and after their pregnancy journey.

The past two years have shown us that parents and families need more support than ever before. As employers prepare for the future of work, it’s essential to understand where their benefits fall short so they can build a program that ensures parents and families have the resources and financial protections necessary to thrive, both at home and at work.

How traditional benefits leave women and families behind

Women and families face high costs and low quality of care

While 75% of women say that their employers offer health insurance, this coverage may not protect them from significant financial burden in the event of pregnancy or a health emergency: 

  • One in six women spend more than $5,000 out-of-pocket to have a baby
  • Insured families whose infants spend time in the NICU could pay more than $10,000
  • 26% of women in the US have out-of-pocket costs from health insurance greater than $2,000 annually. In comparison, only 2% of women in Sweden and 6% of women in Canada report an annual cost this high. 

High healthcare costs disincentivize treatment, disproportionately impact Black and Latinx women, and contribute to inequality across the board. Each year, 38% of U.S. women say that they have foregone treatment because of the cost.

Higher costs don’t often correlate to a higher quality of care, either. More than a quarter of U.S. women wait more than four weeks to see a specialist, limiting the capacity for providers to address issues as they arise and increasing the likelihood of poor outcomes for both parent and baby. Diminished access to specialty care, combined with high out-of-pocket costs, contributes to low patient satisfaction—only 24% of women in the U.S. rate their quality of care as excellent or very good.

Traditional health insurance doesn’t compensate for inequitable care

Despite a renewed focus on health equity, the healthcare system is still rife with deeply entrenched inequities that affect the health of birthing parents and their children. Maternal mortality among Black mothers is three times higher than their white counterparts, and rates of preterm birth and low birthweight are higher among Black, Hispanic, and American Indian & Alaska Native women when compared to white women. These stark disparities can be attributed to the fact that providers spend less time with Black patients, tend to overlook their symptoms and complaints, and reduce contact with them during the important postpartum period.

Race is not the only driver of negative outcomes, as studies have also found that rural mothers experience higher rates of hospitalization due to pregnancy complications, compared to suburban women. This phenomenon can be partially attributed to the fact that almost one-half of all counties in the United States don’t have an obstetrician, and 40% don’t have an obstetrician or certified nurse midwife. March of Dimes reports that up to 5 million women in the US are living in “maternity care deserts,” meaning patients have limited or no access to maternity health care services.

Comprehensive maternity care to improve outcomes is lacking

While insurance has expanded coverage for pregnancy and postpartum services, many parents still lack access to critical specialty care. Health insurance commonly covers some specialty care providers like midwives and lactation consultants, and some are starting to cover doulas, but many women are forced to pay high copays or go out of network to receive these important services. Additionally, specialists that support the family-building journey, like adoption coaches and fertility specialists, aren’t covered by most traditional health plans.

Giving birthing parents free or low-cost access to a broad range of specialty providers can help drastically improve outcomes for mother and child:

  • Birthing parents who work with a doula are two times less likely to experience a birth complication, and four times less likely to have a low birth weight baby.
  • Medicaid beneficiaries receiving doula support saw lower rates of C-sections and preterm births when compared with birthing parents who didn’t receive doula services. 
  • Studies found that women who use midwife services were less likely to experience preterm births and had a lower rate of miscarriages before 24 weeks. 
  • Lactation consultants have been shown to increase both the number of women who start breastfeeding, as well as the percentage of women who exclusively breastfeed versus supplementing with formula.

Insufficient paid leave affects parents and children

Health outcomes for parents and children are affected by more than just insurance coverage. Paid maternal and family leave can have significant implications on health and productivity at work, but there is currently no federal standard for paid parental leave. Only four in 10 women report that their employer offers paid maternal or family leave, leaving the majority of women without income as they care for newborns. Additionally, 46% of mothers say that they are not paid when they take time off to care for children who can’t go to school. With the COVID-19 pandemic causing school and daycare closures nationwide, caregivers have been forced to choose between providing for their families and continuing to work full-time. Women have borne the brunt of the childcare shortage: a recent study found that 61% of America’s caregivers were women, which is leading to mass burnout and the “She-cession.”

With access to paid leave, the health of children improves. Children whose mothers have access to paid family leave are more likely to go to well-baby checkups in their first year. These visits are associated with a reduction in obesity, ADHD, and hearing problems. Paid family leave also increases the likelihood and duration of breastfeeding an infant, which can help strengthen a baby’s immune system and stimulate positive brain development. Beyond the health impacts, companies who don’t offer paid leave may lose valuable employees—half of families had one or both parents leave the workforce or scale back hours during the COVID-19 pandemic, and four in 10 working parents are considering leaving their jobs altogether.

How employers can close the health care gap

Companies need to meet parents where they are now and expand their benefits beyond traditional health insurance to improve care and foster loyalty. Many companies are turning to a wider suite of family-building benefits to tackle these gaps facing working parents.

Organizations offering benefits viewed as “special and unique for their needs” make employees twice as likely to stay with the company. What does special and unique entail? In Maven’s survey of 493,000 working parents in partnership with Great Place to Work, we found that:

  • 75% of the Best Workplaces for Parents offer fertility support programs
  • 44% of those workplaces subsidize child care expenses
  • 58% provide egg freezing coverage
  • 66% offer adoption support

As a result of these expanded family-building benefits, companies on the Best Workplaces for Parents list saw a 45% lower rate of burnout for working parents and an 86% reduction in parents wanting to leave their employer.

How Maven helps companies improve benefits for birthing parents and families

Maven Clinic is the world’s largest virtual clinic for women’s and family health, designed to complement existing medical coverage and fill in gaps during the family-building journey. Through Maven’s platform, employees have 24/7 access to a range of maternity care specialists, resources, and virtual classes to improve health for birthing parents and babies. Maven addresses existing gaps and disparities in health insurance by:

  • Providing high-quality care to families: Maven is offered at no additional cost to employees, giving them on-demand access to a range of providers. The average appointment rating with a Maven provider is 4.9/5, with a 70 NPS for members. Additionally, Maven members experience 20% lower C-section rates and 32% lower NICU admissions. 
  • Reducing health inequities through culturally competent care: Provider diversity is essential in improving outcomes for historically marginalized communities. 38% of our providers identify as Latinx, Black, Asian, or Middle Eastern, and 8% identify as LGBTQI+. Providers speak over 30 different languages, including Spanish, French, Hindi, and Hebrew. 
  • Increasing access to specialty care: Through Maven, employees have free, 24/7 access to providers in over 30 specialties and 120+ sub-specialties, including midwives, adoption coaches, fertility coaches, doulas, mental health providers, nutritionists, sleep coaches, and more. 

Employers who offer Maven see a return to work rate of over 90%, and 70% of members report higher productivity at work.

As your organization looks to the future of benefits and strives to improve the care offered to your employees, Maven is here to help. Schedule a demo with our team today to see how Maven supports working families, retains talent, and reduces costs.

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