For Babies, One Day Is Not Enough

April 30, 1995

No one questions the need for containing health care expenses, but there is a point at which the drive to curb costs interferes with sensible medical care. A good example is the increasingly restrictive policies insurers have placed on hospitalization for childbirth, now commonly requiring that mothers and newborns be discharged within 24 hours after the birth.

Many mothers are indeed ready to go home as soon as possible. But for plenty of others, especially first-time mothers, the hurry to save a couple of hundred dollars in hospitalization costs takes a heavy toll. Not only do they experience more stress and worry with the small, often easily resolved crises that can crop up for newborns and their parents, but there are sometimes more alarming consequences as well. As The Sun's Diana Sugg has reported, 24 hours is simply not enough time to determine whether an infant suffers from any number of serious medical conditions, ranging from heart problems to genetic defects.

So it is no surprise that medical insurers are facing a backlash -- this time in the form of a bill awaiting the governor's signature requiring them to allow mothers and babies 48 hours in hospital or pay for visiting nurses. Perhaps it would be preferable for insurers to adopt sensible policies without the need for coercive legislation. But that hasn't happened, making it difficult to argue that these policies should be left to the best judgment of bean counters in the insurance companies.

Childbirth is rarely debilitating enough to justify the calls for several weeks of bed rest that were common in earlier generations. But neither is it the kind of event that should be regarded as little more than an outpatient procedure, which seems to be the prevailing attitude among insurers these days.

When new mothers spend more time in the hospital, they are more likely to breast-feed their babies. When that happens, everybody benefits, even insurance companies. Breast-fed babies are less prone to infection, while studies show that formula-fed babies are far more likely to be hospitalized in the first year of life. Breast-feeding has many other benefits as well, including evidence that it measurably increases IQ levels.

The arrival of a new life is a precious and vulnerable time. Helping give that new life a good start can be one of the most cost-effective expenses an insurance company can bear.

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