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Americans pay far more for maternity care and delivery than our peers in the developed world, as described in a lengthy article The New York Times published yesterday. But while the stories of the women in the piece end with delivered babies and enormous bills, the costs of having a child in this country continue after the hospital. All along the way, this country has made the cost of having children nearly prohibitive.
The costs of pregnancy have spiraled out of control in the United States. Charges for delivery have nearly tripled since 1996. Out-of-pocket costs have risen fourfold. The total price tag for a pregnancy and newborn care with a vaginal delivery is about $30,000, while it comes to $50,000 for a C-section. Women with insurance pay an average of $3,400 out of pocket, a large sum as it is. Yet over 60 percent of women with private plans that aren’t through their employers lack maternity coverage. Not to mention that nearly one in five women between the ages of 18 and 64 are uninsured. As one woman paying for private insurance told the Times, “I know that a C-section could ruin us financially.”
Two decades ago, the article points out, women didn’t usually pay anything except a small fee if they wanted extras like a private room or television. That’s more in line with what women in developed countries across the pond pay. Ireland guarantees free maternity care at public hospitals with the option to pay a fee for private deliveries. The average price for a vaginal delivery comes to about $4,000 in Switzerland, France and the Netherlands, but mothers are on the hook for little of that. Yet American women and European women have access to about the same care. One of the bigger contrasts? That more babies die in the United States in their first day of life than in sixty-eight other countries. The US ranks at number fifty in the world for maternal mortality.
The real difference driving costs is our healthcare system. Here at home, we pay for each individual test, procedure and medication, including a $20 splash of disinfectant on the umbilical cord, a bottle of which goes for $2.59 at Walgreens. In most other developed countries, by contrast, hospitals and doctors receive a flat fee for caring for a pregnant woman.