Premature Births Soar: Preterm Births the Number One Obstetric Problem

Dr. Sullivan also notes that prematurity imposes financial burdens on insurers, businesses and families. In 2000, hospital charges for 23,000 prematurity-related infant stays totaled $1.2 billion. The average charge was $58,000 per baby, compared to $4,300 for a typical newborn stay.

The net cost of health care for treatment of preterm newborns covered by employer health plans has been estimated at $4.7 billion -- equivalent to approximately two percent of corporate after-tax profits.? On January 30 the March of Dimes will release data showing the national hospital bill for premature births.

The March of Dimes goals are to increase public awareness of the problem of prematurity from 35 to 60 percent, and to decrease the rate of preterm birth by at least 15 percent, to no more than 10.1 percent. The 2001 rate was 11.9 percent.

If the rate in 2001 had been 10.1 percent, an estimated 73,000 babies would have been spared a premature birth.

The March of Dimes campaign will invest $75 million over the next five years and will raise new funds to support research into the causes and treatment of prematurity, says Dr. Howse. The campaign will also advocate for an increase of $10 million annually in federally funded research into the causes of prematurity.

"Our history, our track record and our mission to improve infant health uniquely qualify the March of Dimes to call the question," says Dr. Howse. "But this will be a tough campaign -- more difficult than finding the vaccine for polio and folic acid education. We can't do this alone. We need the support of the American public, health professionals, the corporate community and federal and state government officials.

"We need to educate women about preterm labor, work with medical personnel to support risk detection, invest more federal and private research dollars and expand access to health care in order to find out why this is happening to our mothers and babies. For thousands of families every year, the answers can't come soon enough."

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