March of Dimes Turns to Business Community In Premature Birth Fight

Julie Bitely

| 4 min read

Prematurity Awareness
Every year, about two million working women give birth in the United States, making maternal and newborn care a significant expense for employers.
When a child is born prematurely or sick, costs can be more than ten times higher than for those of a full-term, healthy baby.
March of Dimes leaders hope their “Healthy Babies Healthy Business” program can help. The no-cost, educational work site wellness program is tailored to the needs of female employees and promotes a pregnancy and family-friendly work environment.
The Grand Rapids March of Dimes chapter hosted an informational breakfast for local business leaders on Monday, Nov. 17, 2014 to mark Prematurity Awareness Day and November as Prematurity Awareness Month. The presentation shed light on the problem of prematurity, how it impacts the bottom line, and what businesses can do to help their employees have healthy, full-term pregnancies.
One in nine babies is born prematurely in the United States, meaning they’re delivered before 37 weeks. The economic and human costs are staggering:
  • The average medical cost for a healthy baby is $4,320, while the average medical cost for a baby born prematurely is $55,025. That means employers would spend more on that one premature baby than on the remaining eight babies combined.
  • Premature birth is the #1 cause of death in newborns and is a leading cause of lasting childhood disabilities, such as learning, vision, hearing, and lung problems.
  • A 2006 Institute of Medicine Report estimated the total costs associated with pre-term births in the United States to be $26.2 billion annually, broken down to include lost household and labor market productivity ($5.7 billion), maternal delivery ($1.9 billion), special education ($1.1 billion), early intervention ($611 million), and immediate short term medical care for pre-term infants ($16.9 billion).
  • Preventing premature births in Michigan could save $723 million annually.
Personal Pain, Enormous Costs
Melissa Petersen is the Community Director for the Grand Rapids’ March of Dimes. She understands, personally, the human and economic impact of delivering prematurely.
Pregnant with triplets, Petersen went into labor at 22 ½ weeks. Sofia was born first and survived for nine hours. Tiny Grady and Levi arrived two weeks later. While Levi built up strength, Grady didn’t fare as well, and eventually the family had to make the difficult decision to remove his life support.
Levi is now a happy, healthy five-year-old.
“He is very amazing,” Petersen said.
While she said she’d give anything to have had her other two babies survive, Petersen was grateful the family qualified for Medicaid when she gave birth. The total cost for the three babies totaled almost $1 million, with $873,000 of that going toward Levi’s months-long stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Moving in the Right Direction; How Business Can Further the Trend
The rate of premature births in the country has been on the decline for the past seven years, saving over $10 billion in health care costs, said Joan Rikli, Director of Critical Care and NICU at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital/Spectrum Health.
She said work done by the March of Dimes, including the “Healthy Babies Healthy Business” program is helping to lower those rates.
“They want to put me out of business, which is great,” Rikli said of March of Dimes efforts to target prematurity.
Premature births take a toll on kids and communities, with costs borne by employers and taxpayers, Rikli explained. Employees with premature babies need more time for leave and sick days and there’s also an impact to overall workplace productivity. She said out of 200 countries, 130 have lower rates of premature birth than the U.S. Investing more in prevention is an important way to reverse that trend and ultimately spend less on care.
As many as half of premature births are preventable, said Mary Schubert, Clinical Services Director for Maternal Child Services at Mercy Health St. Mary’s. She’s also the Association for Women’s Health Section Chair for the State of Michigan.
She gave three ways businesses can encourage and help their employees have healthy babies.
“Supporting women during pregnancy is key for employers,” Schubert said.
Known risk factors for premature birth include smoking during pregnancy and carrying a child after delivering a premature baby. Schubert said employers should support smoking cessation programs in the workplace and make sure that their health insurance coverage includes it as a covered benefit. Progesterone treatment can help women at risk for early labor based on past pregnancies and Schubert said again, employers should make sure their employees have this as part of their benefits package.
Schubert also urged women and their doctors to not schedule delivery before an expectant mom goes into labor for the sake of convenience, which can cause problems for the child.
Building a supportive workplace goes a long way in ensuring women in the workforce go full-term.
“Women are very motivated to do the right thing when they’re pregnant,” she said.
Are you a business owner or in a position to further resources available to pregnant women where you work? Check out the March of Dimes’ “Healthy Babies Healthy Business” program and consider implementing it at your workplace.

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
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