Amid all the data that forecasts trouble in life, the statistic that shows up first is that of babies who are born before term.
Premature births, and births before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy, can be fatal to some newborns. But many others face increased risks of health challenges that can persist for a lifetime, including cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities.
Despite the extraordinary advances in medicine, and the heroic efforts made by staff in neonatal intensive care units, the toll of premature birth is about $26 billion every year, according to a study by the Institute of Medicine.
And as one might imagine in a discussion of poor health statistics, Louisiana is one of the states with a staggering problem.
Louisiana again received an F on the March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card, despite some improvements in the past year.
Louisiana’s 2014 preliminary preterm birth rate was 15.1 percent, a slight improvement from 15.3 percent the previous year. The March of Dimes goal is lowering the U.S. preterm birth rate to 9.6 percent of live births by 2020.
If we’re a long way from that number, the state showed some definite improvements. Among other statistics, the percentage of uninsured women of child-bearing age is down, but still about one in four women don’t have health insurance.
Smoking is down among women, and the late preterm birth rate is at 10.1 percent, a positive development.
A variety of programs pushed by the state’s health officials and health care providers is making some progress, according to the new report card, but much more remains to be done.
As with most of statistics related to a bad start in life, poverty and its related afflictions, such as a lack of prenatal care, drive poor outcomes.
We note that Gov. Bobby Jindal and others have long pushed for expanded Medicaid coverage for children and expectant mothers, and that can go a long way toward avoiding bigger hospital bills down the road.
Medicaid has become a political flashpoint lately, with some, including Jindal, criticizing its effectiveness. Medicaid isn’t perfect, but we continue to believe that the governor and state legislators are wrong to block expanded coverage of the working poor. That is available at very low cost over the next decade under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Whatever deficiencies anyone can point to, broader Medicaid coverage is better than nothing — and in the specific challenge of avoiding premature births and low-birth-weight babies, it’s the most obvious way to attack yet another of Louisiana’s health challenges.