News Release

Aetna and the Aetna Foundation to Fund $730,000 in Research to Help African-American Women Have Healthier Pregnancies and Healthier Babies

Studies to Address Racial Disparities in Infant Mortality, Cesarean Delivery
Rates, and Medicaid-funded OB-GYN and Pediatric Care


HARTFORD, Conn., April 4, 2011
— Aetna and the Aetna Foundation today announced funding in support of three research projects aimed at driving down rates of infant mortality among African-American newborns, who are more than twice as likely to die in their first year as white infants, and improving health equity for their mothers.  Grants totaling $730,000 have been awarded to separate studies by the March of Dimes, the University of California San Francisco and the Center for Health Care Strategies. 

“Nearly 20 percent of babies born to African-American women are born prematurely, a condition that is a major factor in the stubbornly high infant mortality rates in the African-American population,” said Anne C. Beal, M.D., M.P.H., president of the Aetna Foundation, and a pediatrician who has been widely published on children’s health issues. “Additionally, African-American women are more likely to have cesarean deliveries, which can have substantial maternal health risks."

“Despite medical advancements and an overall reduction in infant mortality rates, the gap between the survival rates of African-American babies and non-Hispanic white babies has remained persistently the same.  Through our support of these studies, we hope to provide data that can deepen our understanding of possible causes of the significant disparities in these health outcomes – including both social factors and clinical care factors -- and encourage the development of effective policies to improve the health of these mothers and their babies,” Beal said.

Grants announced today are:

  • $250,000 to the March of Dimes in White Plains, N.Y., for a two-year study to analyze the best practices in the CenteringPregnancy® programs the organization sponsors.  These group prenatal workshops, which aim to reduce premature deliveries and improve infant and maternal health, currently serve low-income women in approximately 80 sites around the country.  Groups of eight to 12 expectant mothers with similar due dates meet for 10 sessions to learn care skills, participate in facilitated discussions and have their health assessed.  The March of Dimes study will focus on the programs’ success in reducing the rate of preterm and low birth weight babies as well as measuring the rates of patient participation and satisfaction among pregnant low-income African-American women, who are at highest risk of giving birth prematurely.  Through site visits and focus groups, the research team, led by Scott Berns, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P., will examine how well hospitals, medical clinics and other health organizations launch and sustain the program.  The research team also will determine any barriers to success, such as obtaining resources, recruiting and engaging participants and measuring the program’s effectiveness.  Ultimately, the findings will be used to enhance training and technical assistance to benefit pregnant women at all March of Dimes-funded sites, which reach more than 1500 women annually, and potentially all CenteringPregnancy® sites, which reach thousands more women every year.
  • $238,000 to University of California San Francisco to explore the underlying factors contributing to higher rates of primary cesarean delivery among African-American women in California.  The researchers, led by Paula Braveman, M.D., M.P.H., will study two sources of population-based data -- birth certificate data linked with hospital discharge data and birth certificate data linked with population-based postpartum survey data -- for approximately 310,000 women with term singleton first births in California during 2007-2008.  They will take into account clinical indications and explore the potential role of a range of maternal characteristics, such as age, education, chronic health conditions and pre-pregnancy BMI, and hospital-level factors, such as size, teaching status, location and volume of deliveries.   The study will examine patterns across racial/ethnic groups, with particular focus on disparities among black, Latina and white women.  Additionally, the researchers will interview key personnel at selected hospitals about practice patterns at their institutions to gain insights about potential explanations for the quantitative results.   With one in seven U.S. births occurring in California, the researchers believe the findings will have national relevance.
  • $242,000 to the Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS) in Hamilton, N.J., for an 18-month study to analyze racial and ethnic disparities in Medicaid-paid obstetrics and pediatric care.  Specifically, the researchers, led by Nikki Highsmith, M.P.A., will inventory the medical practice size of obstetrics and pediatric providers serving high volumes of Medicaid/CHIP-enrolled patients in five regions in the U.S., and analyze the quality of care measures by practice size.  By identifying the practices that predominantly serve this population and informing targeted practice site improvement efforts, the researchers believe their results have potential to significantly impact women’s and children’s health. Currently, 41 percent of all U.S. births are financed through Medicaid, and one-third of all children’s medical coverage is supplied by the Medicaid/CHIP program.   

In addition to grant-making to promote racial and ethnic equity, Aetna recently announced several initiatives to help close the health gap between infants and expectant mothers of various racial and ethnic groups.  Aetna is collaborating with the March of Dimes, the Leapfrog Group and others on several infant safety programs to lower the rate of electively scheduled deliveries before 39 weeks and thus reduce babies’ risk of health and development problems. 

Racial and ethnic equity in health and health care is one of the Aetna Foundation’s three program areas, along with fighting obesity and promoting more integrated and coordinated patient care.  Since 2001, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have awarded more than $30 million in grants to support programs that address racial and ethnic equity in health care, including $1.24 million in 2010.

On March 11, Aetna was honored by the National Business Group on Health for its commitment to racial and ethnic equity in health care.
 
About the Aetna Foundation
The Aetna Foundation, Inc. is the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna Inc.  Since 1980, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have contributed $394 million in grants and sponsorships, including $15.6 million in 2010.  As a national health foundation, we promote wellness, health, and access to high-quality health care for everyone.  This work is enhanced by the time and commitment of Aetna employees, who have volunteered more than 2.3 million hours since 2003.  Our current giving is focused on addressing the rising rate of adult and childhood obesity in the U.S.; promoting racial and ethnic equity in health and health care; and advancing integrated health care. For more information, visit www.AetnaFoundation.org.

About Aetna
Aetna is one of the nation’s leading diversified health care benefits companies, serving approximately 35.3 million people with information and resources to help them make better informed decisions about their health care. Aetna offers a broad range of traditional, voluntary and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services, including medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioral health, group life and disability plans, and medical management capabilities and health care management services for Medicaid plans. Our customers include employer groups, individuals, college students, part-time and hourly workers, health plans, governmental units, government-sponsored plans, labor groups and expatriates. For more information, see www.aetna.com. To learn more about Aetna's innovative online tools, visit www.aetnatools.com.