Health + Tech /17 Jul 2019
07.17.19

How Do We Decrease the Cost of Giving Birth in America?

Giving birth is dangerous and expensive in the U.S. The recent rash of anti-choice legislation passed in many jurisdictions ignores economic reality — giving birth in the United States can easily bankrupt a family. For a single parent, the financial ramifications grow even more severe.

Even an uncomplicated delivery costs well over $10,000, and the smallest complication can send costs soaring into six-figure ranges. This does not include the costs of post-natal care for either the mother or the child. If the U.S. wants to claim it cares about the sanctity of life, it’s well past time for us as a society to implement solutions to make having a baby less financially disastrous for millions of citizens.

How Much Does Giving Birth Cost in America?

The price tag of giving birth depends partially upon the jurisdiction where a woman lives. Some states institute caps on what hospitals can charge for certain procedures while others do not. One study conducted by Childbirth Connection found a vaginal birth cost $32,093 and a cesarean section $51,125.

One reason costs vary is some states enjoy healthier market exchanges than others. California, for example, enjoys a thriving health insurance exchange, and even with coverage, it cost $12,410 to give birth there on average in 2017. In states lacking exchanges and where governing bodies denied the Medicaid expansion, giving birth can drive lower-income women into poverty.

Women disproportionately bear the brunt of the high cost of childbirth. Every year, over 1.5 million unmarried American women give birth. While some have family support systems to help them, thousands more do not. Considering many of the abortion restrictions recently enacted apply before a woman even knows she’s pregnant, and the number of women forced into medical bankruptcy due to giving birth to a baby they did not want nor plan for will rise.

Many women, sadly, often die during childbirth, from preventable causes. The United States is the only developed nation where maternal death rates are on the rise, and the nation ranks below all others in terms of this rate. At least half of these deaths are preventable according to the CDC, and often stem from out-of-control blood pressure, preeclampsia and other conditions proper prenatal care can treat. Unfortunately, for women without insurance, prenatal care is a luxury many cannot afford.

Nor does the suffering and death end with the mother. The U.S. also has the worst infant mortality rate out of the 20 wealthiest nations on earth. Over the 40 year course of one study, 600,000 infants perished unnecessarily, primarily due to poverty and inadequate access to care. States in the south, where, ironically, many of the most restrictive abortion bans exist, fare the worst in terms of infant mortality. The inherent cruelty of forcing women to give birth only to watch their infants die boggles the mind.

The rise of the gig economy contributes to the high cost of giving birth in the U.S. Many women, especially those who are parents already, gravitate toward work that gives them the scheduling flexibility of contract labor. However, many such positions come with no health coverage or other benefits, meaning if a woman becomes pregnant, she must handle the cost of giving birth on her own. Additionally, a woman who loses such a position due to complications of childbirth is ineligible for unemployment compensation in many jurisdictions, meaning she and her infant may find themselves literally out in the cold with nothing but a stack of hospital bills. This precarity negatively impacts health outcomes for many mothers.

Why Is the Cost of Giving Birth in Other Nations Lower?

Compare the cost of giving birth in the U.S. to that in England. In England, giving birth costs approximately $2,300, or $3,400 for a cesarean section. Want the natal experience of Meghan Markle? You could do so for less than it costs for a standard birth in the States.

Around the globe, only a smattering of Asian nations charge higher rates for childbirth than the U.S., but those countries also enjoy far better health outcomes. The United States remains the only developed nation where you pay more, but get less. Why?

Proponents of for-profit medicine believe competition drives innovation, and high prices lead to better treatments. However, statistics fail to support this assertion. Rather, pricing remains the reason health care in America costs so much. Other nations negotiate with providers, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies to keep costs low, whereas the U.S. does not.

Making the American Health Care System More Family-Friendly

One way to make the American health care system better for families is by implementing a single-payer system which extends coverage to all. Insurance works on the basis of minimizing risk by spreading costs out over a large pool of people. Only the U.S., with its insistence on competition above the common good, fails to provide a single-payer system for all regardless of age. According to a paper authored by Charles Blahous of George Mason University, such a system would result in net savings of approximately $10 billion per year in 2022.

One method some women choose is giving birth at home with or without the assistance of a doula, or individual trained to assist in childbirth. The average doula costs between $800-$2500, much less than a hospital birth. However, if the woman experiences complications, paramedics will rush her to the nearest emergency room regardless, so this method of cost reduction only works for women fortunate enough to have normal deliveries.

Lowering the Cost of Giving Birth in the U.S.

The high maternal and infant death rates in the U.S. linked to inadequate access to care urgently need addressing. Until we as a nation lower the cost of giving birth, more women and children will die. If we want to pride ourselves on protecting the sanctity of life, we need to protect children and women by making it more affordable to have a baby.

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