Pre-term births cost one city's hospitals $93M a year

How much do preterm births cost hospitals? The tab for a single county that includes a mid-size Midwestern city is nearly $100 million a year.

That's the conclusion of a study undertaken by Cradle Cincinnati, a charitable arm of Cincinnati Children's Hospital that focuses on avoiding pre-term births. It examined pre-term births in Hamilton County, Ohio, which includes Cincinnati in its population of about 800,000.

More than 1,500 children are born prematurely in the county every year, according to the study. The cost of providing their care ranges from about $19,600 for moderate or late preterm births to more than $454,000 for a child born months prematurely. Altogether, the bill is $93 million a year--for a geographic area that represents about one-quarter of 1 percent of the U.S. population. Of that amount, some $43 million is attributed to extremely pre-term births--those of 23- to 27-week gestation, according to the study. However, the study did note that Hamilton County's rate of premature births is significantly higher than the nationwide average.

However, pre-term births have been plaguing the United States over the past couple of decades, with its rate of pre-term deliveries significantly higher than other industrialized nations. Some states, such as Texas, have reported pre-term birth rates of higher than 13 percent as recently as 2007, and Michigan approached 20 percent. Many other states still report rates of 5 percent or higher.

"Preterm birth is really expensive," Jim Greenberg, M.D., director of the neonatology division of Cincinnati Children's Hospital, told the Cincinnati Business Courier. "A baby born 10 weeks early, that's a lot of time in the hospital. It's important to convey the human side of this problem, which is profound. But sometimes it can help focus folks to think about it from an economic perspective."

Greenberg noted that Medicaid picks up the tab for a lot of the costs, although the program tends not to completely cover hospital costs. Self-insured businesses also have to deal with the cost, which Greenberg said tends to impact their bottom lines.

AOL Chief Executive Tim Armstrong made headlines last year when he mentioned that two "distressed" babies cost the self-insured company at least $2 million--remarks that drew critcism for their bluntness. In North Carolina, a medical home initiative was launched for pregnant Medicaid patients.

The Cradle Cincinnati report recommended that women space their births more than one year apart and not smoke while they're pregnant. Both measures would save hospitals $10.1 million a year.

To learn more:
- read the Cincinnati Business Courier article 
- check out the Cradle Cincinnati study (.pdf)