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Professor Douglas Almond Awarded for Landmark Study on Economic Benefits of Advanced Medical Care for At-Risk Newborns

Posted Dec 07 2011

Professor Douglas Almond is among a group of economists to receive the 2011 Garfield Economic Impact Award, for their groundbreaking study on the economic benefits of advanced medical care for at-risk newborns.

Professor Almond and his co-authors - Joseph J. Doyle, Jr.; Amanda E. Kowalski; and Heidi Williams - were honored for their paper titled "Estimating Marginal Returns to Medical Care: Evidence from At-Risk Newborns."

The award, presented by Research!America, recognizes the outstanding work of economists who demonstrate how medical and health research impacts the economy. The award is supported by a grant from Merck & Co., Inc.

The study, published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, shows that advanced medical care enables very low birth weight babies to "beat the odds" and survive at greater rates than would be expected based on birth weight alone. 

The cost of medical treatments for at-risk newborns has increased considerably in recent years. In the U.S., preterm and low-birth weight diagnoses accounted for 8% of newborn admissions but 47% of costs for all infant hospitalizations, according to the paper. Using hospital discharge records for births in five states from 1991 to 2006, the authors found that newborns with birth weights just below 1,500 grams often have higher charges and more frequent medical interventions than babies at slightly higher weights. The authors found that when an intensive level of care was applied, very low birth weight babies defied expectation by surviving at greater rates than the higher birth weight babies. Despite the need for highly intensive care, the cost of saving the life of a newborn with birth weight near 1,500 grams is well below most value of life estimates.

Research!America's chair, former Congressman John Edward Porter (R-IL), said, "The study demonstrates the net positive economic impact of advanced medical care for a highly vulnerable population. We applaud the winners for contributing policy-relevant evidence on the value of such care."

"Though we have focused on the impact of medical care for at-risk newborns, we hope that our methodology will also shed light on the impact of medical care for other populations," said Kowalski on behalf of the award recipients.

Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America, said, "We are extremely pleased with the extraordinary work of these economists in analyzing the return on investment with advanced medical care for at-risk newborns. Their research underscores the cost savings associated with evidence-based, cutting-edge treatment."

About the 2011 Recipients

  • Douglas Almond is an associate professor, Department of Economics and School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), Columbia University
  • Joseph E. Doyle Jr. is an associate professor of economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management.
  • Amanda E. Kowalski is an assistant professor of economics, Economics Department, Yale University
  • Heidi Williams is an assistant professor, Department of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

About Research!America

Research!America is the nation's largest nonprofit public education and advocacy alliance working to make research to improve health a higher national priority. Founded in 1989, Research!America is supported by member organizations that represent the voices of 125 million Americans.