Whoa, mama. That’s a lot of money.
A new study revealed that the cost of childbirth has become exorbitant for many mothers — regardless of insurance status. Researchers found that pregnant women with employer-provided health insurance spent an average of $4,500 out of pocket in 2015, the most recent data available.
That’s a 50 percent spike compared with 2007, when the cost was about $3,000 out of pocket — and more than three times the rate of inflation during that period.
“I don’t know a lot of patients who have this kind of funding lying around,” Dr. Michelle Moniz, a physician and assistant professor at the University of Michigan and study author, told CBS News.
“These expenses are coming at a time when most of my patients are thinking of everything else on their baby list,” she added, “a crib, a car seat, everything they need to keep their newborn safe — and they aren’t expecting a bill like this.”
The study, published this week in Health Affairs, included birth records from more than 650,000 women who would be considered in the best position to give birth, thanks to their large employer-sponsored health insurance plans, which typically offer more cost coverage than plans through small businesses or those purchased independently through HealthCare.gov.
The cause of the increase isn’t due to the rising cost of hospital care. In fact, the actual billed amount for childbirth remained fairly steady over the seven-year study period. Instead, researchers found that deductible payments rose from about $1,500 to nearly $2,500, while coinsurance costs (what the patient pays after meeting their deductible) increased by about $300.
“I was completely surprised that the phenomenon of having to pay something out of pocket for maternity care was almost universal,” said Moniz. “Ninety-eight percent of people had some out-of-pocket cost by the end of the study.”
For those without insurance, the cost is staggering. Health-care watchdog Fair Health found that the average cost of vaginal birth without insurance in Alabama, where childbirth costs are lowest, is $9,516.86. On the high end, in Alaska, a natural birth averages $20,243.38. Women who require a C-section can count on paying approximately $4,000 to $8,000 more.
Study authors call out the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which requires employer-based insurance plans to cover maternity services, pointing out that just because it’s now mandatory doesn’t mean it’s more affordable.
“For people who talk about the ACA, there seems to be this misconception that ‘oh, maternity’s covered,’ ” said Moniz, who wrote in her report that those plans are being allowed to “impose cost-sharing such as copayments and deductibles.”
That’s especially concerning considering pregnancy-related deaths are also on the rise, especially among black and other minority women. A 2019 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that U.S. women today are 50 percent more likely to die of childbirth-related complications than a generation ago.
“Our hope is that policymakers take note now and change the situation,” she added. “We want every family to get off to the best start in life, and this is an irremediable barrier.”