The health insurance and wellness arm of a major insurer says it has evidence that efforts to help pregnant group plan members pay off.

Nationwide Better Health, a unit of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, Columbus, Ohio, says its FutureFootsteps program cut participants premature birth rate to 10% in 2006, compared with a national average of 12% and helped cut the percentage of babies born with low or very low birthweights to 6.6%, from a national average of 8.1%.

Managers believes the program achieved about $50,00 in savings for each participating baby who did end up needing intensive care in 2006, up from savings of about $18,000 per baby in 2005, Nationwide says.

Maternity nurses call pregnant women, assess their health, give advice about controlling risk factors, and refer women with problems to a medical management unit.