The March of Dimes annual report card gives Missouri a grade of C. Rep. Jeff Grisamore (R-Lee’s Summit) says that’s too high, and is working to bring it down. The premature birth rate in Missouri is 12.1 percent, slightly down from the previous total, 12.2 percent.

Click map to see state-by-state statistics.

In some urban cores, in Jackson County, St. Louis County, St. Louis City and the Bootheel, that rate climbs to about 18 percent, he says, pointing out the rates are directly correlated with poverty.

An 18-member task force that was created by House Bill 555 last session and sponsored by Grisamore met for the first time this week. (Nov. 17 is World Prematurity Day.) Grisamore says more than 13 million babies are born prematurely every year — 10,000 of them in our state.

Grisamore says immediately after birth, the costs can be several thousands to millions of dollars … add to that costs that come with developmental disabilities and other health complications, the cost to the state in into the billions.

The group comprises senators, representatives, officials from the departments of health, social services, insurance, advocates from the March of Dimes, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and parents who have children affected by premature births and infant mortality. Grisamore, himself, lost an infant child to Prawder Willi Syndrome. He says he and others on the panel bring a lot of passion to solving the issue.

He says the Missouri State Task Force on Prematurity and Infant Mortality is striving to developing “evidence based” strategies to reduce the rates, as well as work with faith-based groups to bring more availability of care and support to pregnant women.

The group will continue to meet and explore options, meeting quarterly over the next two years. It will present recommendations to the governor and legislature in December 2014. Grisamore says that deadline does not preclude proposing legislation before then.