What many Americans don’t know is how they’ll pay for that baby’s birth.
By virtually any fiscal metric, pregnancy is hardly a run-of-the-mill medical procedure in the United States. Its costs are tied up in all sorts of policies and business practices unique to American medicine. The result is families -- regardless of their ability to pay -- often facing sizeable bills for healthy births.
Doctors, nurses and hospitals deserve to get paid, of course.
Yet, in The New York Times’ recent examination of the cost of having a baby in America, it wrote, “In most other developed countries, comprehensive maternity care is free or cheap for all, considered vital to ensuring the health of future generations.”
As the nation moves closer to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, it’s wholly appropriate to continually our critical thinking about the U.S. medical system. Why is it that procedures such as routine vaginal births -- procedures that aren’t abnormally expensive in other nations -- are so pricey here?
The differences are staggering.
The Times’ report is a smorgasbord of data too in-depth to reprint here, but consider this if nothing else: Americans paid on average $9,775 for each childbirth (non-Caesarian) in 2012. That’s more than $5,000 above the next most-expensive nation (Switzerland, $4,039) and not comparable to childbirth in Ireland, which is free, The Times reported.
Additionally, American mothers with healthy children are often sent home from the hospital after only one or two days, The Times said, because of insurance regulations. In France, however, the average childbirth in 2012 was just $3,541 -- even though mothers there are routinely kept in the hospital for days to help new moms adjust to breast-feeding and other issues.
Cries of socialized medicine have rang out from Obamacare opponents since before its passage, and yet the free-market, commercialized version of American medicine has led, in terms of pregnancies, to skyrocketing costs. Most alarming in The Times’ report was the explanation of item-by-item billing system so prevalent in U.S. medicine, which has dramatically increased the cost of births in the last 20 years. Price-conscience families often wonder whether a doctor-ordered test is out of necessity or profit-building.
“We’ve created incentives that encourage more expensive care, rather than care that is good for the mother,” Maureen Corry, the executive director of Childbirth Connection, told the newspaper.
On ability and expertise, American medicine has no peer. But if the end goal of health care is providing quality care, and nothing else, then consider this more proof that priorities need readjusting.