The Price Tag of Pregnancy: Why Bringing Home Baby Costs Way More Than It Should

by Kelly Maxwell

With so many health insurance policies that don’t cover maternity costs, the expenses that come with bringing home that little bundle of joy are growing at a rapid rate. Why is the price so high? Let’s dive into some of the dirty deets of affordable and unaffordable healthcare systems.

The average cost of prenatal care is $6,257 and a pregnancy in the United States is $37,341. Just let those numbers sink in and marinate for a bit. The American healthcare system and hospitals often attempt to rack up the highest possible bill by running tests and that women may not even need. Some of the items billed might not even be what the patient and the doctor actually agreed upon or even used!

Remember that Ricki Lake documentary, The Business of Being Born? That’s just the tip of the iceberg here. When every item can be billed, why wouldn’t a hospital want to bring in the highest total charge per pregnancy? The correlation between the increase in C-sections and the cost of childbirth is not accidental. Think about it from a strictly numbers perspective (because the outrage and bullshit detection will come later). A woman who has a complication-free, drug-free delivery is going to bring in less revenue for everyone involved, so why not encourage unnecessary testing, unwarranted procedures, and even schedule a drug-intensive delivery? The focus on the patient and newborn has taken a backseat to financial gain.

“It’s not primarily that we get a different bundle of services when we have a baby,” said Gerard Anderson, an economist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who studies international health costs. “It’s that we pay individually for each service and pay more for the services we receive.”

“Those payment incentives for providers also mean that American women with normal pregnancies tend to get more of everything, necessary or not, from blood tests to ultrasound scans.”

Moving on to the outrage! It isn’t all rainbows and sunshine in other parts of the world where health insurance is nationalized.  For example, take the difference between giving birth in Canada versus the US. In America, you can choose the kind of care you get, but you will pay for it. In Canada, healthcare is free (thanks to a 45 percent taxation rate BTW), but healthy pregnancies are low priority, so women may wait for months to see an obstetrician.

In both instances, the mother’s well-being is in a dependent state. Canadian mother Laura Davis wanted to work with the same doctor throughout the course of her pregnancy but was unable to because there are no private doctors in Canada’s free healthcare system. Her friend living in America, Julie Bryant, didn’t want the “sticker shock” (AKA the price tag) of American healthcare to get in the way of receiving quality care. 

So where does that leave us? What are your thoughts, BUST-ies?How can we fix a broken system that values dollar signs over the quality of care and availability of options? Where can women without insurance turn when they decide to have a baby, when the numbers are so overwhelming? 

Source: The New York Times, Slate

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