HHS Launches Strong Start Initiative, Funding Opportunity

The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services announced more than $40 million in grants this month as a part of the “Strong Start” initiative to help reduce the increasing number of preterm births in America and ensure more babies are born healthy.

More than half a million infants are born prematurely in America each year, up 36 percent over the last 20 years. Children born preterm often require specialized medical care and may develop lasting conditions that impact their adult lives.

To combat this, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation will award grants to healthcare providers and coalitions to improve prenatal care to women covered by Medicaid. The grants will support the testing of enhanced prenatal care through several approaches under evaluation, inducing group visits with other pregnant women, birth centers providing case management, and maternity care homes where pregnant women have expanded access to better coordinated prenatal care.

The Strong Start initiative will also focus on reducing early elective deliveries, which can lead to a variety of health problems for both mothers and infants. Scheduled or induced deliveries prior to 39 completed weeks of pregnancy are on the rise in recent years. However, any early delivery, planned or spontaneous, has medical risks.

In addition to health benefits, the economical impact of reducing preterm births cannot be ignored. Medical care in the first year of life for a preterm baby covered by Medicaid is estimated to cost $20,000 compared to $2,100 for full-term infants. With Medicaid paying for slightly less than half the nation’s births each year, a 10 percent reduction in deliveries occurring prior to 39 weeks would save over $75 million annually.

For more information on the funding opportunity, visit Strong Start’s funding webpage or view the full funding announcement. Interested parties must submit a non-binding Letter of Intent by March 21, 2012. Applications are due June 12, 2012.