A healthcare policy expert breaks down the confusing costs that come with having a baby
From a health insurance standpoint, giving birth in the United States is one of the most expensive and confusing things one can do. Our country’s healthcare system is far from ideal and can be difficult to navigate for those with uncomplicated births — so difficult, in fact, that even health policy experts can’t make sense of it.
Simon Haeder, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science in the John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy & Politics at West Virginia University, recently wrote about his experience dealing with healthcare costs after the birth of his son, Lukas, in February.
“From the first doctor’s appointment, we were introduced to what to expect: lots of paperwork and lots of bills,” he says. “There are of course all the monthly, then biweekly, and then weekly doctor’s visits with the corresponding bills.” Haeder mentions how expecting parents go along with every test the doctor suggests, because what we all want more than anything is a healthy baby. The amount of the bill the Haeders’ insurance company received for genetic testing totaled $26,755.
The birth of their son, Lukas, unfolded so quickly Haeder joked that they wouldn’t be charged for delivery — since the baby practically arrived while they were still in their car. Oh, how wrong he was. “The delivery room, which we used for all of one minute, cost about $7,000,” he says. “Room and board for my wife for 48 hours cost just over $3,100. Two Tylenols for my wife: $25. Laboratory work: $1,200.”
If you think that’s bad, here are the rest of the charges: $1,500 for room and board for the baby. Additional lab work cost $1,400. Lukas’ hearing test was $260. And the absolute kicker of it all? The doctor, who was not present at the birth of the baby, charged $4,200 for delivery. Oh, and anytime a pediatrician stopped in to check on Lukas? $150 a pop.
All of this for a “normal” and uncomplicated delivery. And that doesn’t even cover the cost of everything once the baby is home — breast pumps, well visits, vaccinations, figuring out how to manage during unpaid leaves from work, and child care. While certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act help with some of the aforementioned things, financial assistance isn’t not a guarantee for everyone in every financial situation.
Basically, having a baby in the U.S. is expensive and confusing AF. Even for families with health insurance. Even for parents with paid leave. Haeder, who is an expert on health care policy, agrees. “I cannot imagine how overwhelming the experience must be for someone with fewer resources and less of an understanding about health care in America,” he says. A-fucking-men. Our healthcare system could use a serious overhaul.
As for parents or parents-to-be who may not be as well-versed in these policies, Haeder offers some advice. He recommends trying to plan ahead as much as possible (which can be tough in terms of pregnancies), and put money in a flexible spending account.
“Try to fully understand your insurance coverage so you know what is covered,” he tells Scary Mommy. “Make sure you know what providers are in your network so you don’t get surprised when your insurance denies a bill and you become fully responsible. Question your provider and ask whether tests are necessary. Try to keep track of what is done to mother and child and who does it. More generally, all of us need to start questioning whether we want to go on like this or whether we want some systemic changes to our healthcare system.”
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