DETROIT, Feb. 26, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Meridian Health Plan earned a grant from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Innovation Center to support the Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns initiative. Meridian will partner with Allegiance Health in Jackson, Michigan to implement the initiative which aims to reduce preterm births and improve health outcomes for newborns and pregnant women. Meridian is one of 27 awardees announced on February 15, 2013. "We are delighted to be partnering with Meridian Health Plan on this important initiative to lead to improved outcomes for mothers and infants that we care for within the Jackson community," said Jenny Wren, MBA, BSN, RN, Director of Women's and Children's Services at Allegiance Health. Premature births are a growing public health problem with significant consequences for families and society, costing an estimated $26 billion each year. This equates to more than 500,000 infants in the United States each year, a number that has grown by 36 percent over the last 20 years. "As a major segment of our membership, improving the health of pregnant women and newborns is a priority for Meridian," said Shery Cotton, COO of Meridian Health Plan. "It's a national concern, but we're focused on working with our local partner, Allegiance, to implement an effective model that creates positive change. I'm proud of the team who worked to make this grant a reality." A total of 182 healthcare facilities across the country will support the four-year Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns initiative that seeks to determine approaches to decrease the anticipated total cost of medical care during pregnancy, delivery and over the first year of life for children born to mothers in Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).