Neonatal Outcomes Improvement Project
Premature birth has been the major contributor to the infant mortality rates in recent United States vital statistics reports. Deaths associated with premature birth were the highest contributor to the infant mortality rate of 6.85 deaths per thousand births, ranking the United States 36th in infant mortality amongst the world's nations.
Of the roughly four million babies born in the United States in 2003, about 500,000 were born with a gestational age of less than 37 weeks (the medical definition of prematurity). About 9,000 babies died in 2003 as a consequence of premature birth. The rate of infant mortality within the African-American population in 2000 was 14.1 per thousand births, more than twice the national average for that year.
The new data cited in Preterm Birth gives us a clearer picture of the total cost of premature births in the US. As disturbing as the mortality rate is, the morbidity associated with prematurity is also of concern. The approximately 491,000 premature babies who survive their first year will suffer significantly higher rates of respiratory, cardiovascular, neurologic, gastrointestinal, metabolic, visual and hearing disorders than the general population throughout their lives. Preterm Birth estimates, conservatively, that the annual medical and social cost to the United States of premature babies is $26.2 billion a year. Of this total, $16.9 billion (about two thirds) are attributable to medical costs. Forty percent of these annual medical costs (about $6.76 billion) are paid by Medicaid.