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Researchers at the University of Michigan reviewed out-of-pocket maternity care and childbirth costs for more than 650,000 women who gave birth at a hospital. Between 2008 and 2015, the out-of-pocket cost of giving birth with employer health insurance rose 50 percent, from an already high $3,069 to a staggering $4,569, the researchers found. That's three times the rate of inflation over that time period, CBS News reports.
Broken down by type of birth, cesarean sections cost women more than vaginal births. On average, the out-of-pocket payment for a c-section rose from $3,400 in 2008 to more than $5,100 in 2015. Vaginal birth costs topped out at just over $4,300 in 2015 (up from $2,900 a few years earlier), according to the study published in the journal Health Affairs.
Considering that 1 in 3 Americans says they'd struggle to pay $400 in unexpected medical bills, this is not a great situation. And given that 2015 is five years ago, chances are the out-of-pocket cost of childbirth is even higher now.
So why is having a baby so expensive?
According to the researchers, the cost of the birth itself hasn't changed. What's changed is that more people have high-deductible health plans, and health insurers are asking patients to pay a greater portion of their childbirth costs.
Women paid about 21 percent of the cost of having a vaginal birth in 2015, up from 13 percent in 2008. For women who had c-sections, the share of cost rose from 10 percent to 15 percent during that period.
Many people assume that the Affordable Care Act reduced or eliminated the cost of childbirth. Sadly, that's not true. The law requires employer-based health insurance plans to cover maternity services, but it doesn't stop insurers from asking patients to pay a significant portion of the cost, the study authors noted.
The study only looked at women with employer-based insurance, so it's not clear whether women who purchase their own insurance have faced a similar increase in out-of-pocket costs.
Avoiding these high payments is hard. Speaking with ABC News, Carol Sakala, director of childbirth connection programs for the nonprofit National Partnership for Women and Families, had this advice:
- Keep an eye out for more expensive services, such as out-of-network specialists or anesthesiologists, which could trigger surprise medical bills.
- Make sure your medical bills don't contain errors, such as charges for services you didn't receive.
- Try to negotiate some of the costs.
Many women have unplanned pregnancies, which makes it difficult to prepare financially for the cost of having a child. However, if you're planning a pregnancy, here are some factors to help you decide whether you can afford to have a baby.
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