By Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.)
As Congress returns to work this week, there are many contentious issues that need to be addressed. But there is at least one thing we can all agree on: Every baby deserves a healthy start, and reauthorizing the PREEMIE Act will help us toward that goal. November is Prematurity Awareness Month, and there’s no better time than now.
Premature birth is far more common — and more serious — than many people realize. Every day, one in eight infants in the United States is born too soon. Our prematurity rate is one of the highest in the world and is the leading cause of newborn death.
Even babies born just a few weeks too soon can face serious health challenges and are at risk for lifelong disabilities, including cerebral palsy, lung problems, vision and hearing loss, and learning disabilities. In addition to its human toll, prematurity costs our economy at least $26 billion per year.
Despite these challenges, we’re making steady progress. This week, the March of Dimes will release its annual state premature birth report cards, which show that the U.S. prematurity rate dropped for the fifth straight year. The nation’s preterm birth rate now stands at 11.7 percent, down from its peak in 2006 of 12.8 percent.
These improved rates mean not just healthier babies, but an estimated savings of about $3 billion in annual health care and economic costs to society. We’re proud that both of our home states have made important progress toward reducing preterm birth rates. California has reduced its preterm birth rate from a high of 10.9% to 9.8%, while New Jersey has reduced its rate from its peak of 12.9% to 11.7%.
Congress took action in 2006 by passing the PREEMIE Act, which brought unprecedented national focus to prematurity prevention. For the first time, the law called for the development of a comprehensive public-private national agenda to spur innovative research at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support evidence-based interventions to prevent preterm birth.
The progress made during the past five years is the direct result of public and private investments on the federal, state and community levels — including working with hospitals and doctors to identify and promote quality improvement initiatives to reduce elective deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy. But our work is far from over; the premature birth rate is still too high.
Reauthorizing the PREEMIE Act will continue to fuel progress in reducing our nation’s premature birth rate by supporting federal research and promoting known interventions and community initiatives.
It will take action by all of us on the federal, state and community levels to continue our progress toward preventing premature birth. For the sake of the over 4 million babies who are born across the United States every year, we must reauthorize the PREEMIE Act to ensure that each and every one of them has a healthy start in life.
Reps. Eshoo and Lance are original co-sponsors of the bill.