How Phoenix’s Increasing Premature Birth Rate Affects Employer Healthcare Costs

by Jordan Cook

Phoenix’s preterm birth rate is 10% and continues to trend upward, which can be attributed to the greater availability of fertility treatments along with the rising age of new mothers across the country. However, this spike in preterm births is not without risk. Recent data from the National Institute of Health found that women who receive infertility treatments are more than twice as likely to deliver preterm and have a higher probability of delivering twins or triplets. Neonatal intensive care can cost families upward of half a million dollars — adding to an already stressful time in their lives. 

To some Arizonians, fertility treatment is still likely perceived as a specialty that is not covered by their health insurance. Employers are aware of this and of how offering fertility benefits as part of their employee benefits package can be lifechanging for families. In recognition of the challenges employees face in their personal lives, more and more employers have chosen to add fertility care to their benefits programs. These benefits offer employees increased access to fertility treatments, including IVF, specialty doctors, male fertility care and post-birth care.

These expanded benefits, which provide care and support for employees and their families, can be a factor in attracting and retaining talent while building loyalty among longtime workers. However, offering fertility benefits (carrying the associated increase in preterm deliveries) may be a challenge, particularly for local employers who are left to cover the rising cost of employee healthcare. There are solutions for Phoenix employers to mitigate and reduce these preterm care high healthcare costs while also ensuring parents, families and babies receive the best treatment available. 

Clinical programs and technologies are also impacting healthcare costs. While it’s not possible to remove all the potential risks that can result in premature births from increased fertility treatments, improvements in technology have reduced the risks for families and reduced other complications that can lead to high-cost claims. However, preterm births continue to be a primary driver for high-cost claims. According to recent data from SunLife, a leading provider of fertility benefits, in examining the highest-cost claim conditions for 2021, newborn and infant care remains the fifth-highest claim expense from 2018 through 2021, with higher-cost claim amounts held only by diseases like cancer. Additional data from March of Dimes Arizona insurance report card, shows how the preterm birth rate has worsened over 2020 into 2021 in Arizona. 

There are new resources and tools to help families determine what kind of medical care they need and the best places to receive it depending on the coverage and location in the Phoenix area. Many tools are available through carriers, brokerages and third-party administrators (TPAs). Additional tools can provide insight into the value proposition of different insurance programs, providing employees with the decision-making tools and algorithms embedded in the enrollment program to select the plan that best fits their needs. Companies are becoming more technology agnostic and open to featuring these third-party tools, welcoming and encouraging more scientific advancements within healthcare that will undoubtedly aid their employees in achieving their personal health goals. 

Fertility benefits are an important, innovative and inclusive way to attract and gain the loyalty of top talent in the Phoenix area. For employers looking to offer this benefit to employees, there are ways to mitigate the expense while ensuring that families receive quality care through careful consultation with insurance brokers to develop robust benefits plans. However, there are a number of challenges to consider when choosing whether offering fertility benefits is the right choice for their employee benefits program. It is extremely important to carefully consider a strategic partner who knows the marketplace, as well as how to navigate a system fraught with nuances and complexities.

Jordan Cook is a Phoenix-based experienced benefits advisor for local employer NFP, a leading insurance broker and consultant providing business and personal insurance, group benefits, retirement and individual solutions through its licensed subsidiaries and affiliates. 

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