Louisiana receives an "F" from the March of Dimes premature birth report card. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the state's preterm birth rate is 12%. The Director of Bureau of Health with the Louisiana Department of Health, Amy Zapata, says there are many risk factors that lead to a premature birth.

"One of the greatest risk factors is having had a prior preterm birth and also becoming pregnant too soon after another pregnancy," Zapata said.

Zapata says the best way to reduce preterm births is adequate health care of women before and during the pregnancy. She hopes the expansion of the Medicaid program will help provide that care to low-income expecting mothers.

"The timing is right now in Louisiana for people to access care," Zapata said.

The March of Dimes Report says Caddo Parish has the highest preterm birth rate in the state at 19-percent. Statewide, the preterm birth rate among black women is 49-percent higher than the rate among all other women.

But Doctor Lyn Kieltyka with the Louisiana Department of Health says preterm births are not about race, instead its access to health care.

"Are their services available that can optimize health prior to pregnancy and for those chronic conditions in general. That's when we really see improved outcomes," Kieltyka said.