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AOL CEO’s Comments on Preemies Highlight Need for Focus on Premature Births

This week, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong spoke with employees during a company-wide meeting on changes to employee benefits. Armstrong spoke with employees about why company contributions to retirement accounts were delayed. Armstrong blamed rising healthcare costs for AOL on the Affordable Care Act, stating:

“We had two AOLers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid $1 million each to make sure those babies were OK in general.”

Rather than inspiring understanding and agreement, Armstrong’s comments alienated AOL employees from upper management. Deanna Fei, the wife of an AOL employee and the mother of a 16-month-old, gave birth 4 months prematurely and spoke out against AOL.

“The suggestion that her very existence could be called into question and blamed for corporate cost-cutting made me really furious,” Fei said.

AOL employees weren’t the only ones who were disgusted by Armstrong’s comment. The media began picking up the story, and soon, Fei was being interviewed by national news outlets about the experience she went through with her premature daughter and how Armstrong’s comments cut her.

The public outcry against Armstrong’s comments was so severe that AOL reverted back to its old policy. Armstrong called Fei personally to apologize. According to Fei, “I just hope that in the future we’ll be more careful about reducing human life to a monetary figure.”

This AOL controversy has highlighted the nation’s need to discuss the treatment of and care of premature babies. Modern medicine has failed at preventing premature birth. In fact, 12% of U.S. babies are born prematurely, costing the United States $26 billion annually. $12 billion of this was paid by employers. In addition, premature babies face difficult and dangerous deliveries and often spend weeks in the hospital hooked up to various medical equipment. The risks of birth injury and infant mortality increase drastically in a premature birth. In fact, the most common birth injury in preemies is a brain injury. Common brain injuries include cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and ADHD.

Many of these birth injuries are caused by the lack of oxygen in the days and weeks following premature birth. This damages the brain, which is still developing its neural network, the operating system that carries neural messages from the brain to the body. Scientists have been working on detecting these injuries and are now able to use an MRI scanner to safely scan preterm babies to detect brain injuries early on. However, scientists are still at a loss on how to prevent or even repair these birth injuries.

While Armstrong’s comments were meant as a condemnation of the Affordable Care Act’s effect on employers, they serve as a starting point for a discussion on premature infants and the need for increased prevention and treatment options of birth injuries associated with preemies.

If you or a loved one gave birth to a premature infant that subsequently suffered a birth injury, please do not hesitate to contact Levin & Perconti to review your case and discuss your options.

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