(Bloomberg Business) — Having a baby isn’t just expensive for parents. Insurance companies spend $18,329 on the average natural birth in the United States, and that cost goes up for Caesarean sections, multiple births, pre-term deliveries, or complications.
Parents and insurers share an interest in healthy pregnancies and lower medical costs, and early interventions can reduce the risk of complications. There’s just one problem: Insurance companies don’t know when women conceive. Medical claims for prenatal visits don’t reach them until late in pregnancy or even after delivery. “We might not know a woman is pregnant until three months after she’s given birth,” says Leah O’Donnell, a managing director at Zaffre Investments, the venture capital arm of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
To change that, some companies are trying to reach women sooner, using smartphone apps that track fertility cycles and pregnancy milestones. Since February, the Massachusetts Blue Cross plan has been sending information to members who use fertility and pregnancy apps from a company called Ovuline. Zaffre led a $3.25 million investment in Boston-based Ovuline on May 22. Blue Cross members who use the app can get personalized notices about their health plan’s benefits and information about diet, exercise, or other factors that affect maternal health.
Ovuline is part of a class of self-tracking apps for expectant moms and couples trying to conceive. Users enter data on everything from the timing of menstrual cycles to how often they feel babies kick. Another app, called Due Date Plus, is working with health plans, including Aetna and the Wyoming state Medicaid program. The startup behind Due Date Plus signed a deal this month to market the app to Medicaid agencies across the country through Xerox, which has health-information technology contracts with 38 states. And Text4baby, supported by governments and private insurers, sends women text messages throughout their terms. The free service has been used by more than 850,000 women since 2010.
Insurers want to use app data to increase the odds of healthy deliveries because the stakes are so high: “Having a baby in a NICU for a month can be a million-dollar hospital bill,” O’Donnell says.