A UAMS study shows a “significant reduction” in low-birthweight and preterm births for black infants in the states, such as Arkansas, that expanded Medicaid coverage.

The results are contained in an article published today in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study found no significant difference in overall rates for all pregnancies.

Clare Brown and Mick Tilford of the College of Public Health were authors of the study. Tilford, in a UAMS news release, said:

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“Medicaid expansion means continued health insurance for many low-income women. Insurance can lead to healthier mothers, and healthier mothers can lead to healthier babies.”

The study examined 15.6 million births from 2011 to 2016 in states that expanded Medicaid and states that did not expand Medicaid. Specifically, the study looked at the association between Medicaid expansion and rates of low birth weight and prematurity overall and among racial/ethnic minorities compared to non-Hispanic white infants.

The data came from 18 states that expanded Medicaid and 17 states that did not. Researchers looked at preterm birth (a baby born less than 37 weeks), very preterm birth (a baby born less than 32 weeks), low birth weight (a baby weight less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces), and very low birth weight (a baby weighing less than 3 pounds, 5 ounces). These evaluations were made among all births, as well as among Medicaid-covered births and Medicaid-covered births to women with at most a high school diploma [used as a proxy for income].

Differences in outcome were strong.

Among black infants of mothers with at most a high school diploma, rates of very low birth weight declined 14.8% in expansion states and increased 2.1% in non-expansion states. Rates of low birth weight declined 8.3% among expansion states and increased 5.6% in non-expansion states for this subgroup.

Low birth-weight increases the risk for infant mortality and chronic conditions, all with increased medical costs.