Call for newborn health

The Baltimore Sun

Nine percent of babies born in Maryland each year are below normal birth weight - and those babies account for more than half of what the state spends on all births, according to an analysis released yesterday by a nonprofit advocacy group.

Babies born weighing less than 5.5 pounds frequently require longer hospital stays, more intensive care and can suffer from lifelong physical and mental disabilities, costing the health care system in the long run. The lowest birth weight babies - those under 3.3 pounds - spend an average of 40 days in the hospital after birth, compared with just under three for normal weight births, according to the report by Advocates for Children and Youth.

Many of these low birth weight infants are covered by Medicaid, and their hospital costs average $84,000, compared with $2,300 for normal weight infants, the report said.

Armed with this data, the group plans to push in Annapolis today for policies aimed at prevention, arguing that paying to care for low birth weight babies costs far less than paying to treat health issues later.

Because women with one bad outcome are more likely to have a second, advocates believe that extending health care benefits to women who have had low birth weight babies can avert future low birth weight babies.

They call it interconception care. Low-income women are covered by Medicaid during pregnancy, but all but the poorest lose coverage after the child is born.

"The biggest concern right now is these women who have a difficult pregnancy - they are the biggest risk to have another high-risk pregnancy 18 months later," said Matthew H. Joseph, executive director of ACY. "A couple [of] thousand dollars to provide ongoing health services to that woman ... when you do the math, you realize the state saves money."

A fiscal analysis done by Joseph's group found that spending $4.4 million a year would save on health care costs. The group will ask a House of Delegates committee today to put language in the state budget to fund interconception care.

About 7,000 Maryland babies are born too small each year, or 9 percent of all births.

More than 40 percent of births each year in Maryland are financed by the state through Medicaid, according to ACY.

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