Sept. 21 (UPI) -- A recent study by the University of Utah estimates that employer-sponsored health insurance spent at least $6 billion extra on premature infants in 2013.
Roughly 1 in 10 infants are born prematurely in the United States, which affects survival and quality of life.
The study, published in the September edition of Pediatrics, found that the majority of the money spent was on premature infants with major birth defects.
Birth defects affect 1 in 33 babies and are a leading cause of infant mortality in the United States with more than 5,500 infants dying each year due to birth defects. Infants who are born with birth defects are at an increased risk of lifelong physical, cognitive and social impairments and challenges.
Researchers from the University of Utah and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that employer-sponsored health insurance plans spent about $2 billion on infant care in 2013, with just over one-third spent on 8 percent of the premature infants.
The study showed that infants with major birth defects made up less than 6 percent of the premature births, but one-quarter of the spending.
"The contribution of this study is to start to tweak out the contribution of birth defects to that overall cost burden so we can start to prioritize efforts at prevention of both preterm births and birth defects," Norman J. Waitzman, professor and chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Utah, said in a press release. "This is a multi-billion-dollar burden. In order to prioritize interventions, we have to have an accurate estimate of what the costs are and how those are broken down because often times interventions are tailored to specific populations."
Researchers point to proper preconception health care as a way to help prevent birth defects and premature births.
"Before getting pregnant, women should talk to their doctor and follow their guidance about eating healthy, including enough folic acid, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol around the time of conception as well as throughout pregnancy," Scott D. Grosse, research economist at the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities said.