homepage logo

Florida receives F on Premature Birth Report Card

By Staff | Nov 14, 2008

The March of Dimes, a national organization that creates programs and raises funds to combat premature birth, released its first Premature Birth Report Card on Wednesday, a report ranking each state across the country based on its percentage of early term births.

According to the report, Florida received an F because it has a pre-term birth rate of 13.8 percent. The entire country received a D with a 12.7 percent.

Officials from the March of Dimes reported that Florida is facing a crisis in the amount of premature births — 37 weeks or earlier into a pregnancy — that is forcing health care costs and special education budgets to skyrocket.

According to the Institute of Medicine, health care for premature babies costs the nation $26 billion a year and has increased 20 percent since 1990.

The highest grade nationwide was assigned to Vermont which received a B. Overall, eight states were given a C, 23 states received a D and 18 a failing grade.

“The report card illustrates the importance of ensuring every pregnant woman in Florida has access to health coverage, and it further stresses the value of smoking prevention and cessation,” said Dr. Charles Mahan, the March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign chair.

At the forefront of premature births is the issue of insurance. Nationwide there are approximately 47 million people without insurance, and in Florida there are about 3.9 million.

For pregnant women without insurance, approximately 27 percent of the population in Florida, it would be difficult to receive the necessary prenatal treatment to avoid problems with their pregnancy.

This year, March of Dimes is advocating against proposed cuts to Medicaid’s income eligibility for pregnant women. The cuts would decrease eligibility under the Federal Poverty Level from 185 percent or 150 percent, which equates to an income decrease of $39,220 to $31,800 to qualify. In the long term it would prohibit many pregnant women from receiving vital services.

“In addition to these issues, the March of Dimes will continue to include the protection of newborn screening and birth defect surveillance programs amongst its advocacy priorities,” said Mahan.

Until 2007, Florida was not included as one of the states testing babies for 29 genetic disorders such as cerebral palsy. Babies throughout the state had only undergone eight tests, while health experts agree that early detection ultimately cuts the cost of health care down the road.

Researchers for the March of Dimes also pointed out in the annual report card that smoking is a major contributor to premature births in Florida with the smoking rate among women at 19.7 percent.

On Wednesday, the March of Dimes hosted the Sixth Annual Prematurity Awareness Day to bring awareness to the 530,000 babies born premature each year and the fact that it is the leading cause of newborn death.

The local division of the March of Dimes hosted a dinner for local families at Lakes Regional Park in Fort Myers. The group is asking its supporters to sign the “Petition for Preemies” that will be sent to newly elected legislators. In Florida there have been 6,109 signatures so far.

“It (the petition) is addressing the high rate of premature birth in this country. We have four things that we are doing as a call for action with the petition,” said Tricia Christian, director of the Southwest Florida Division of the March of Dimes.

The organization is asking for expanded federal support for research, policy-makers to improve women’s access to health care and smoking cessation programs, businesses to create work places that support maternal health and for hospital leaders to review their Cesarean-section births to ensure that they meet professional guidelines.