The March of Dimes Foundation noted that babies born prematurely spend significantly longer time in hospitals, have more outpatient visits, and more medical needs. The analysis was underwritten and conducted by Thomson Medstat using a database of large self-insured U.S. employers.

In a separate analysis, the March of Dimes estimates that in 2002, almost half of hospital charges for premature infants, or about $7.4 billion, were billed to employers and other private insurers.

"Premature birth is a serious and common problem that places enormous emotional pressures on nearly 500,000 families each year in this country," says Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "Prematurity also creates enormous financial pressures on businesses and on the economy."

"Employers need to be aware of the consequences of premature birth," says Charlene Parsons, vice president, Total Rewards at CIGNA. "There are costs related to the health and wellbeing of the infant and the mother, as well as an emotional and financial cost to the family and the workplace, including high health and productivity costs."

Prematurity is the leading cause of death in the first month of life, and a major contributor to disability, the March of Dimes says. Babies who survive may suffer lifelong consequences, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, chronic lung disease, vision and hearing loss.

Besides the direct cost to businesses, premature birth also causes lost productivity. The Thomson Medstat analysis found that premature babies spend nearly 17 days in the hospital over the 12 months following birth, compared to 2 to 3 days for healthy, full term babies and they visit the doctor's office 50 percent more often. All of this means more time away from work for parents.

MEDICA.de; Source: March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation