WE WOULD like to believe that all babies are born in the full bloom of health.
In fact, far too many of them die at birth or suffer illnesses that lead to death because of low birth weight.
We would also like to believe that a country as advanced as ours provides its babies with the very best of chances for survival and good health.
In fact, our country is ranked 22nd in the world in infant mortality and 28th in babies born with low birth weight. Nationally, more than 25 percent of pregnant women do not receive care during the first three months.
Babies in Maryland are at higher risk than in 42 other states. While the national low birthweight rate is 7 percent, it is 8.1 percent in Maryland. These babies, sometimes weighing as little as a pound, demand very special medical care to assure their survival.
But miracles in this age of neonatal intensive care units do not come cheaply. The cost to save just one of these infants and provide the special care needed in later years averages $500,000. In Maryland, it costs $1 billion -- a twelfth of the entire state budget -- to tend to the needs of children whose illnesses could have been averted with proper prenatal care.
Costs of this magnitude are indicative of escalating health-care expenses now plaguing the nation. However, there are steps that can be taken to make babies healthier while reducing costs.
Recent studies suggest that when women begin receiving the prenatal care they need during the first three months of pregnancy, they have a greater chance of delivering a healthy child. And every dollar invested in prenatal care results in a $3 reduction of infant health-care costs.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield has joined WJZ-TV, the Governor's Office of Children, Youth and Families and the state health department to initiate a statewide campaign to promote a greater understanding and awareness of prenatal care. The program, "If You Are Pregnant," features a series of Channel 13-produced TV documentaries, 30,000 handbooks for expectant mothers and a toll-free number, 800-456-8900. By calling the number, expectant mothers can obtain the free booklet and quick and easy access to a physician.
The burden of proper prenatal care is not one borne by pregnant women alone. It is a responsibility in which we all have a stake. And in light of the enormous costs of health care, it is a responsibility none can afford to ignore.
Carl J. Sardegna is chairman and chief executive officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland.