Objective: To determine gestational age- and birth weight-related pregnancy outcomes and resource use associated with prematurity in surviving neonates.
Methods: A data set linking birth certificates with maternal and newborn hospital discharge records from hospitals in California (from January 1, 1996, to December 31, 1996) was examined for all singleton deliveries by gestational age (weekly, from 25 to 38 weeks) and birth weight (by 250-g increments from 500 to 3000 or more g). Records were examined for respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), use of mechanical ventilation, length of hospital stay in days, and hospital costs.
Results: As expected, RDS, ventilation, length of hospital stay, and costs per case decreased exponentially with increasing gestational age and birth weight. Specifically, neonatal hospital costs averaged 202,700 dollars for a delivery at 25 weeks, decreasing to 2600 dollars for a 36-week newborn and 1100 dollars for a 38-week newborn. Neonatal costs were 224,400 dollars for a newborn at 500-700 g, decreasing to 4300 dollars for a newborn at 2250-2500 g and 1000 dollars for a birth weight greater than 3000 g. For each gestational age group from 25 to 36 weeks, total neonatal costs were similar, despite increasing case numbers with advancing gestational age. Neonatal RDS and need for ventilation were significant at 7.4% and 6.3%, respectively, at 34 weeks' gestation. Significant "excess" costs were found for births between 34 and 37 weeks' gestational age when compared with births at 38 weeks.
Conclusion: Prematurity, whether examined by gestational age or birth weight, is associated with significant neonatal hospital costs, all of which decrease exponentially with advancing gestational age. Because total costs for each gestational age group from 25 to 36 weeks were roughly the same (38,000,000 dollars), opportunity for intervention to prevent preterm delivery and decrease costs is potentially available at all preterm gestational ages.