The Spectrum of State Approaches to Medicaid Maternity Care Contracting

Early View Original Scholarship
State Health Policy Value-Based Payment

Policy Points:

  • Maternal health is influenced by the quality and accessibility of care before, during, and after pregnancy.
  • Nationwide, Medicaid covers nearly one in two births and uses managed care as a central means for carrying out these responsibilities. Thus, managed care plays a fundamental role in assuring timely, equitable, quality care and improving maternal health outcomes.
  • A close review of managed care contracts makes evident that the absence of a national set of maternal health standards has caused challenges in setting expectations for managed care performance.
  • State Medicaid agencies adopt a variety of approaches and underlying philosophies for contracting.

Context: Managed care is how Medicaid agencies principally furnish maternity care. For this reason, the contracts that Medicaid agencies enter into with managed care organizations have attracted strong interest as a means of improving maternal health access, quality, and equity. However, limited research has documented the extent to which states use these agreements to set binding expectations across the maternal health continuum and how states approach the task of maternal health contracting.

Methods: To explore maternal health contracting within Medicaid Managed Care, this study took a three-phase, sequential approach: (1) an extensive literature review to identify clinical guidelines and expert recommendations regarding maternal health “best practices” for people with elevated health and social needs, (2) a review of the managed care contracts in use across 40 states and Washington, DC, to determine the extent to which they incorporate these best practices, and (3) interviews conducted with four state Medicaid agencies to better understand how states approach maternal health when developing their contracts.

Findings: The evidence on maternal health best practices reveals nearly 60 “best practices,” although the literature review also underscored the extent to which these recommendations are fragmented across numerous professional bodies and government agencies and are thus difficult for Medicaid agencies to ascertain. The contracts themselves reflect an approach to the maternal health continuum in a fragmented and incomplete way. Thematic analysis of interviews with state Medicaid agencies revealed three key approaches to contracting for maternity care: an “organic” approach, an “intentional” approach, and an approach “grounded” in state strategy.

Conclusions: The absence of comprehensive, integrated guidelines reflecting the full maternal health continuum likely complicates the contracting task and contributes to incomplete, ambiguous contracts. A major step would be the development of a “best practices tool” that helps state Medicaid agencies translate evidence into comprehensive, clear contracting expectations.

Murphy C, Markus AR, Morris R, Johnson K, Rosenbaum S, Zephyrin LC.The Spectrum of State Approaches to Medicaid Maternity Care Contracting. Milbank Q. 2024;102(3):0613