Medicaid Enrollment Policies Help Pregnant Women Quit Smoking

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have found that a Medicaid policy that fast-tracks applications of pregnant women contributed to a nearly 8 percent reduction in smoking during pregnancy.

However, the smoking reduction did not significantly improve preterm birth rates or low birth weights.

Since the late 1990s, many state Medicaid programs have increased coverage to help pregnant women stop smoking, but the complex process of enrolling in Medicaid may be a barrier to getting the services. “Presumptive eligibility” was a policy introduced in 1986 to improve the Medicaid application process. The policy assumes that pregnant women are eligible for Medicaid when they arrive for care at participating organizations and can receive care while their Medicaid applications are still pending.

A second option, called the unborn-child option, allows states to consider a fetus to be a “targeted low-income child” and to provide coverage of prenatal care and delivery to low-income pregnant women even if they cannot provide the documentation of citizenship or residency that is required for eligibility in Medicaid’s pregnancy category.

“Although the prevalence of prenatal smoking in the United States has declined in recent decades, it is nearly twice as high among low-income women enrolled in Medicaid than it is in the U.S. population as a whole,” said Dr. Marian Jarlenski, the lead author of the study who conducted the research while completing her PhD at the Bloomberg School. “Our research shows that Medicaid’s presumptive eligibility policy led to a nearly 8 percentage-point decrease in smoking during pregnancy, though neither policy significantly improved rates of preterm birth or babies born small for their gestational age,” Jarelenski said.

For the study, the researchers studied 24,544 low-income women in 19 states who smoked prior to pregnancy and participated in the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System from 2004 to 2010.

The authors conclude presumptive eligibility will continue to be an important policy to promote timely prenatal care, but that additional research is needed on the effectiveness of combining smoking cessation interventions with interventions targeting other risk factors to reduce adverse birth outcomes in the population eligible for Medicaid.

The study was published in Health Affairs.

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