Editor's note: This story has been updated.
Colorado’s rate of premature births increased in 2018, to 9.2%, up from the prior year’s 8.8%.
March of Dimes, a national nonprofit advocacy group for maternal health, reported the rise even as rates of uninsurance and poverty among women of childbearing age are lower in Colorado than nationally.
“Every American should be alarmed about the state of maternal and infant health in this country, because it is an issue that touches each one of us,” said the March of Dimes’ president and CEO Stacey D. Stewart.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that 400 infants die in Colorado every year. Conditions arising from prematurity (births before 37 weeks of gestation) cause 38% of those deaths.
The preterm birth rate declined in Colorado until 2014, hitting a low point of 8.4%. It has subsequently increased.
As of 2015, the United States ranked 131st out of 184 countries in infant mortality. CDPHE identifies chronic stress, access to services, tobacco use and lack of family planning as risk factors for mothers.
“A lifelong accumulated experience of racial discrimination by African American women constitutes an independent risk factor for preterm delivery,” the department concluded, based on the stress racism causes.
The March of Dimes report corroborates that finding: Black Colorado women have an incidence of premature birth approximately one-third higher than white women.
The group recommends a maternal mortality review committee and the extension of Medicaid maternity coverage up to a year after birth as policy solutions. The General Assembly this year established such a committee to report on its findings by July 2020. Medicaid coverage for maternity care, however, only lasts roughly 60 days after the child’s birth in Colorado.
Sen. Rhonda Fields was one of the sponsors of the mortality review committee.
"I'm concerned about the impact this has on women of color," she said. "My concern is: is it an access issue?"
Fields, D-Aurora, supports an expansion of maternal Medicaid coverage.
"It's just not a lot of time," she said of the 60-day limit. "There's so many dynamics that could be going on in those homes with that family when you're introducing a new baby. They're struggling."