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Very Premature Babies Don't Get Follow-Up Care
Date:2/4/2008

The problem is particularly widespread among Medicaid families, study finds

MONDAY, Feb. 4 (HealthDay News) -- A groundbreaking study reports that most very low birth-weight babies born to low-income women failed to get critical follow-up care within their first two years of life.

The study illustrates how these premature infants, who are vulnerable to vision, hearing and speech impairments, are falling through the cracks of the U.S. health-care system, the researchers said.

Only 20 percent of the babies with hearing problems returned for specialized care within their first six months of life, while fewer than one in four underwent recommended vision tests between 1 and 2 years of age.

On average, it costs $250,000 to treat an extremely premature baby in the hospital, said study author Dr. C. Jason Wang, an assistant professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University's Schools of Medicine and Public Health. "When they go home, the least we could do is make sure they can see and they can hear, to make sure they can be successful."

At issue are babies born at less than 3.3 pounds, typically because they are extremely premature. According to Wang, babies can now survive being born as early as after six months of gestation, although the infants often suffer from a variety of serious health problems.

"If they're earlier, their lungs aren't really developed, so they will have trouble breathing, taking in oxygen, and a lot of them will develop something called chronic lung disease," he said. "And there will be trouble in the brain because they don't get enough oxygen to the brain. If it's severe, that could have some consequences later on in terms of cognitive and other functions."

Wang and his colleagues chose to look at babies from poor families on Medicaid in South Carolina because the state has especially good records. Also, Wang said, poor and black women are prone to having
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