Maternal Mortality and Public Health Programs: Evidence from Florida

Original Scholarship

Policy Points:

• US maternal mortality rates (MMRs) display considerable racial disparities and exceed those of other developed countries. While worldwide MMRs have dropped sharply since the 1990s, the US MMR appears to be rising.
• We provide strong evidence of the effectiveness of pregnancy-related public health spending on improvements in maternal health.
• Using longitudinal data from Florida counties, we found that spending on public health significantly reduced the MMR among black mothers and narrowed black-white outcome disparities. Each 10% increase in pregnancy-related public health expenditures was associated with a 13.5% decline in MMR among blacks and a 20.0% reduction in black-white disparities.

Context: Maternal mortality rates in the United States exceed those of other developed countries. Moreover, these rates show considerable racial disparities, in which black mothers are at three to four times the risk compared with their white counterparts. With more than half of all maternal deaths deemed to be preventable, public health interventions have the potential to improve maternal health along with other pregnancy outcomes. This rigorous longitudinal study examines the impact of a package of pregnancy-related public health programs on maternal mortality rates.

Methods: We analyzed administrative data on pregnancy-related public health expenditures, maternal mortality rates, and sociodemographic factors from all 67 Florida counties between 2001 and 2014. Florida provides consistent counts of maternal deaths for the entire period of this analysis. We estimated both fixed-effects ordinary least squares regressions (OLS) and generalized method of moments (GMM) models. GMM enabled us to identify the impact of public health expenditures on maternal mortality rates while also addressing both potential endogeneity and serial correlation problems.We also provide a series of robustness and falsification tests.

Findings: Overall, a 10% increase in targeted public health expenditures led to a weakly significant decline in overall maternal mortality rates of 3.9%. The estimated effect for white mothers was not statistically significant. However, we found statistically significant improvements for black mothers. Specifically, a 10% increase in pregnancy-related public health spending led to a 13.5% decline in maternal mortality rates among black mothers and a 20.0% reduction in the black-white maternal mortality gap.

Conclusions: Our analysis provides strong evidence of the effectiveness of public health programs in reducing maternal mortality rates and addressing racial disparities.

Keywords: Maternal mortality, public health, Florida, generalized method of moments.

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Published in 2020
DOI: 10.1111/1468-0009.12442