The American Way of Birth, Costliest in the World

Giving birth to a baby in the United States is more expensive than anywhere else in the world. If you don't have health insurance, you'll be on the hook for the billed amount, which is much higher than insurance companies' negotiated prices. If you have health insurance, there's good chance it doesn't cover maternity costs. And even if it does, many services expectant mothers receive are often deemed unnecessary expenses by the insurance company -and therefore not covered. On the up side, a woman who finds out she is pregnant has time to shop around for the best deals… that is, if she knows that certain services are optional, and even then getting an estimate can be difficult. Renée Martin has insurance through her work, but it does not cover maternity expenses.

When she became pregnant, Ms. Martin called her local hospital inquiring about the price of maternity care; the finance office at first said it did not know, and then gave her a range of $4,000 to $45,000. “It was unreal,” Ms. Martin said. “I was like, How could you not know this? You’re a hospital.”

Midway through her pregnancy, she fought for a deep discount on a $935 bill for an ultrasound, arguing that she had already paid a radiologist $256 to read the scan, which took only 20 minutes of a technician’s time using a machine that had been bought years ago. She ended up paying $655. “I feel like I’m in a used-car lot,” said Ms. Martin, a former art gallery manager who is starting graduate school in the fall.

Even with insurance, out-of-pocket expenses for childbirth have quadrupled in the past ten years. One of the reasons is that instead of a flat fee, maternity services are individually billed, often by many providers. Chris Sullivan and his wife bought a package deal for maternity care from the hospital for $4,000.

The couple knew that price did not cover extras like amniocentesis, a test for genetic defects, or an epidural during labor. So when the obstetrician suggested an additional fetal heart scan to check for abnormalities, they were careful to ask about price and got an estimate of $265. Performed by a specialist from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, it took 30 minutes and showed no problems — but generated a bill of $2,775.

“All of a sudden I have a bill that’s as much as I make in a month, and is more than 10 times what I’d been quoted,” Mr. Sullivan said. “I don’t know how I could have been a better consumer, I asked for a quote. Then I get this six-part bill.” After months of disputing the large discrepancy between the estimate and the bill, the hospital honored the estimate.  

The New York Times has an extensive article about the soaring cost of maternity care, the lack of insurance coverage for much of it, and how the U.S. compares to other developed nations in the way it charges new parents for delivering a baby. Link  -via Digg

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