The Other Really Expensive Baby Cost: Childbirth

Alexa Pugh

cost of childbirthForget the diapers and the 529 college savings plan—it might be labor and delivery that will break expectant mothers’ banks.

Maternity care is costlier than ever in the United States, where the expense beats out that in most other developed countries.

According to a report by Truven Health Analytics, costs are typically $30,000 for a vaginal delivery and $50,000 for a Caesarean section—charges are three times what they were in 1996.

Factors contributing to exorbitant costs are the rising age of mothers and the frequency in which obstetricians face malpractice suits. Today, maternity and newborn care account for the biggest expense to most state Medicaid programs and commercial insurers.

But some employer-provided policies don’t even cover maternity care, and in 2011, neither did 62% of private plans.

Mothers-to-be are being forced to haggle with hospitals, which sometimes can’t even pinpoint the exact cost of a procedure before printing the bill. One New Hampshire woman was told by her hospital that maternity care would set her back anywhere from $4,000 to $45,000, The New York Times reports.

RELATED: Adventures in Outrageous E.R. Hospital Charges

Maternity Costs Are Lower in Other Countries

For the average U.S. woman with insurance, the out-of-pocket cost is $3,400 for maternity care. But the same care is available at the fraction of the cost in other developed countries, where infant mortality rates can be lower.

Decades ago, childbirth was free or minimal for American women, and remains that way in places such as Ireland, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands.

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

The U.S. is unique in billing new mothers by item, and typically discharges them from the hospital sooner.

But despite being rushed out of the hospital, many women are receiving unnecessary treatments and procedures during pregnancy and delivery, Katy Kozhimannil, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, told the New York Times.

More women in the U.S. choose to have a C-section or to induce labor with drugs.

The spike in costs has prompted some health care providers to start offering all-inclusive rates that set a fixed price for maternity care.

But high costs are still putting serious pressure on Medicaid, and it remains unclear which services and procedures will be included in the maternity coverage mandated by the Affordable Care Act starting next year.

So a huge bill for maternity care may be added to the list of what to expect when you’re expecting.

RELATED: The $12K Baby

  • paganheart

    Don’t forget that in most other countries where costs are lower, they also have universal health care, so the vast majority of women get prenatal care, which substantially reduces infant mortality and expensive complications like premature births. In many European countries, midwives (who go through a training program similar to nurses–if you’ve seen the show “Call The Midwife” you get the idea) do the majority of prenatal care and handle the majority of normal, healthy births, which also reduces costs. Doctors are only involved when there are complications (such as preeclampsia or twins) or if the woman needs a c-section.

    And c-sections aren’t performed nearly as often in Europe as they are here, where women often have c-sections not because they are medically necessary, but because it’s more convenient for the doctor (long labors take too much of their time) or because women are afraid natural birth will be too hard and painful and think a c-section will be easier. My sister fell into the latter category and had scheduled c-section with her daughter. But after she needed Percoset for 10 days to handle the post-op pain, and the baby had to spend several extra days in the hospital due to breathing problems, she’s had second thoughts.

    We could probably find lots of ways to lower childbirth costs (and other healthcare costs) if we would look to other countries for examples. But alas, Americans are arrogant little bastards who refuse to believe that anyone else has better ideas, and our way of doing things is always superior…even when the realty is that we fail miserably, at least when it comes to basic healthcare.

  • rubymer

    I plan to be child-free for life, yet I still follow these issues closely. It can only benefit everyone if babies and their mothers are treated better in our society. I wish our country had a single payer system and mandated maternity leave for mothers and fathers!

  • MinnRN

    I don’t understand why most families don’t choose to have home births with a qualified midwife. There is less chance of mom or baby mortality, less infection rates and higher outcomes for both mom and baby. Hospital rates are ridiculous, and most ‘interventions’ are due to hospital policy, not situational. (i.e. heart rate monitoring, contraction monitoring, epidurals, etc.).
    Also, most interventions are harmful (yes, harmful) to baby and mother. Epidurals lower babies respiratory rate increasing chance of respiratory distress thus increasing chances >30% of having to spend the night in the NICU. Also increases risk of complications, stalled labors which thus leads to ‘labor not progressing’ leading to the US having highest cesarean rate. Its a horrible cycle!

    • MinnRN

      Oh, and I forgot to tell you my out of pocket costs for my 3rd home birth last year: $1200. My insurance refused to pay this, they would have paid 100% of a hospital birth though. Isnt’ it funny that Health Partners would rather pay 10x (I would have had a c-section d/t minor complications-cord around neck and shoulder dystocia) vs a highly qualified midwife who also performed baby well-child visits the first 6 weeks of life at our house as well as my post-partum visit. Seems like a deal to me!