Total birth rates at record lows but high-risk births becoming more common

Almost 10 percent of American babies are born prematurely, according to a report Friday from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The report noted the number of premature births is rising compared to previous years.

The U.S. in recent years has had much higher rates of premature births and infant mortality to that of other industrialized nations, driven by unplanned pregnancies, disparities in health care coverage between wealthy and lower income patients, and doctors ignoring guidelines about inducing births too soon, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“The preterm birth rate rose for the second year in a row, to 9.84 percent in 2016,” according to the team from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) in its report. “The low birth weight rate was also up for the second straight year to 8.16 percent.”

Overall birth rates decreased 1 percent from 2015 levels to a record low in the U.S. – 62 births per 1,000 women aged 15 - 44 years.

Premature births, however, defined as births before 37 weeks of gestation, and other high risk births have risen.

Premature births are the leading cause of infant mortality and can lead to life-long disabilities.

“After falling 8 percent from 2007 to 2014, the preterm rate has increased for the second year in a row,” the report said.

Health advocates warn that the numbers could get worse if health care legislation working its way through the Republican-led Congress becomes law. Half of all pregnancies in the US are covered by Medicaid, which is facing cuts.

On the other end of the spectrum, a survey released Friday found many elderly Americans are burdened by the cost of medication and are never made aware by health care professionals of lower priced options.

Twenty-seven percent of adults older than 50, said the costs of prescription drugs were a financial burden, according to a survey by the University of Michigan. Forty-nine percent of those burdened by drug costs said they never had a conversation with a doctor about the price of medicine.

"We already know that cost can keep patients from taking the drugs they need to maintain health or prevent complications, but these new data suggest that many older adults aren't talking to their doctors or pharmacists about cost and less-expensive alternatives as often as they could," said lead researcher Preeti Malani, "This represents an opportunity for patients, clinicians - as well as health systems, insurers and policymakers."

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