Some of the most vulnerable members of society –babies who are born prematurely– are becoming victims of a heartless bureaucratic mindset myopically focused on short-term costs alone. In 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued revised guidelines that resulted in restricted medical options for premature babies who suffer from severe Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). 

This is terrible news for all infants and their parents, it promises to place an extra burden on medically underserved communities, including Latino families. 

A key premise of Obamacare is that lower overall health care costs can result from transferring power from doctors and patients to a vast network of government bureaucracies, advisory boards, and commissions.

- Mario H. Lopez

RSV is a common respiratory virus — nearly all children contract RSV by the time they turn two. Usually, RSV causes mild-to-moderate cold-like symptoms. But in premature infants it can cause severe RSV disease, the most common cause of hospitalization for children under one year of age in the United States. 

Instead of basing its recommendations on clinical data and science, AAP lowered the maximum time for treatment for babies suffering from RSV from five months to three, with no clinical evidence to support such a reduction in care. The AAP reaffirmed the guidelines last year and has claimed that its goal was “to ensure optimal balance of benefit and cost.”

The problem, of course, is that the cheaper medicines, drugs, and treatments are not always the most effective in the short term — let alone the long-term. 

It is important to point out that the thinking behind AAP’s ‘cost-cutting’ focus will eventually affect all American families. After all, a key premise of Obamacare is that lower overall health care costs can result from transferring power from doctors and patients to a vast network of government bureaucracies, advisory boards, and commissions that will cut care and treatment to patients, either outright or by issuing ‘recommendations’ for the rationing of health care.

The American Academy of Pediatric decision to limit RSV treatments for premature babies mirrors Obamacare’s alarming and counterproductive health care model.

For Latinos, research shows that several factors that place children at higher risk of RSV are disproportionately present in our communities. And the most recent available report (2008) from the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics, shows that 12.1 percent of Hispanic babies are born prematurely, a rate higher than that of non-Hispanic whites. 

Several other factors that place children at higher risk of RSV are disproportionately present in Hispanic communities. 

To be sure, cutting medically appropriate and preventive care is a losing proposition for all Americans. Premature babies with RSV are highly susceptible to a variety of complications that lead to hospitalization. Premature infants account for nearly half of the hospital charges for all infants (or a total of $5.8 billion per year). The average charge for the most severe hospital stays is $65,600 for premature newborns compared to $600 for an uncomplicated newborn stay. None of this takes into account health problems in premature births that can persist for years.

Finally, a report by the March of Dimes shows that the total economic cost (medical, educational, and lost productivity) associated with preterm birth in the United States was at least $26.2 billion (or $51,600 per preterm infant) in 2005 (the most recent data available). 

All of this demonstrates the tragedy of analyzing medical treatments exclusively through the short-term prism of costs—a central dynamic of our newly cast health care system. The only way out is for lawmakers to listen to the American people and replace Obamacare with proven measures that put patient interests first and rely on sound science and clinical evidence.

Our great nation should strive to provide the highest quality health care for all Americans, including of course the 500,000 babies who are born prematurely every year. How we treat them reflects our basic human values, and foreshadows the disastrous health care rationing that undoubtedly awaits all Americans under Obamacare.

Mario H. Lopez is president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund. He also spearheads the Alliance for Innovation, which focuses on sustainable, long-term development across the world.

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