Theses Doctoral

The COVID-19 Lockdown, Preterm Birth, and Healthcare Disruptions Among Medicaid-Insured Women in New York State

Howland, Renata

Preterm birth is a key indicator of maternal and child health, affecting 1 in 10 deliveries in the United States (US) and contributing to long-term morbidity and healthcare costs. The COVID-19 pandemic and policies to mitigate the spread of infection may have indirectly impacted preterm birth, but the results of early epidemiological studies were mixed and declines were largely concentrated in high-income countries and populations. Moreover, while most studies focused on stress-related pathways associated with lockdown policies, healthcare disruptions may have also played a role. The goal of this dissertation was to investigate changes in preterm birth and healthcare disruptions related to the COVID-19 lockdown in a low-income population in the US.

In the first aim, I conducted a systematic review of the literature on the pandemic and preterm birth, with a focus on studies that examine heterogeneity by income. In the second aim, New York State (NYS) Medicaid claims were used to examine changes in preterm birth rates during the state’s lockdown policy (NYS on PAUSE) using difference-in-difference methods. In the third aim, changes in preterm were further stratified into those that were spontaneous or medically induced, which may reflect a healthcare pathway. Weekly rates of healthcare utilization, antenatal surveillance, and maternal complications were also assessed using interrupted time series models to characterize healthcare disruptions over the course of the lockdown and across the state.

Results from the systematic review documented the rapid growth in research on this topic since the beginning of pandemic. Among the 67 articles included, most reported some decline in preterm birth rates; however, there was large variation by country, methods of exposure assessment, and onset of delivery. Only seven studies focused on differences by individual income (or income proxies) and those that did were inconsistent. Results from Aim 2 suggested that NYS on PAUSE was associated with nearly a percentage point decline in preterm birth rates in the Medicaid-insured population, without a concomitant increase in stillbirth. Aim 3 demonstrated that the change in preterm was largely driven by declines in medically induced preterm. Interrupted time series models showed substantial, but time-limited, declines in pregnancy-related healthcare utilization at the beginning of NYS on PAUSE.

Overall, the findings in this dissertation suggest there were modest declines in preterm birth during the COVID-19 lockdown among low-income women in NYS, particularly in medically induced preterm. Healthcare disruptions were common for Medicaid-insured women and may partially explain the reduction in preterm birth in this population. Future research is needed to determine whether this change was positive for some and negative for others, and what that might mean for efforts to improve pregnancy outcomes in the future.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Lamb, Matthew R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 25, 2022