Giving birth in America is costlier but not safer

The US by far leads the world in maternity expenses even as new mothers and babies die at alarming rates.

By Jonathan Berr Jul 2, 2013 8:37AM
Image: Baby with money © Creatas, PhotolibraryEvery new American baby born into the world arrives with a global distinction: The cost of giving birth in the U.S. is orders of magnitude more expensive than in the rest of the world. That's the case even though women here have shorter hospital says to recuperate, according to The New York Times.

Citing data from the International Federation of Health Plans, the newspaper said the average price for a vaginal delivery in 2012 was $9,775, while a cesarean section cost $15,041. In Switzerland, which ranked second, those costs were $4,039 and $5,186, respectively.

Worse, these gigantic differences aren't translating into healthier mothers and babies.

"Despite its lavish spending," the paper noted, "the United States has one of the highest rates of both infant and maternal death among industrialized nations, although the fact that poor and uninsured women and those whose insurance does not cover childbirth have trouble getting or paying for prenatal care contributes to those figures."

Obstetricians in the U.S., who have among the highest malpractice insurance rates, aren't getting rich from this trend, the paper said. Less than 25% of birthing fees go to these doctors, many of whom charge flat rates.

Even women with normal pregnancies get more tests than they need. And about 30% of American women are induced with drugs or have C-sections, a rate far higher than doctors say is necessary and well in excess of the rest of the world, the report said.

Although the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act will enable 30 million more people to have insurance by the end of the decade, it isn't clear whether that coverage will meet the needs of those who buy it, The Washington Post recently noted.

"Millions of Americans pay monthly premiums with the expectation that, should a horrible illness or accident occur, the insurance company will cover the majority of some pretty expensive hospital bills," the paper said. "Some experts and health advocates have begun to question whether the health-care law can deliver on that promise."

As it is now, many people with jobs don't have maternity coverage, which prompts them watch every penny they spend to bring their children into the world. That's one reason more than 60% of all personal bankruptcies are tied to medical costs.

Giving birth to a baby shouldn't also mean giving birth to a bankruptcy.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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Jul 2, 2013 10:17AM
Nobody even notice that American women have no paid maternity leave as in the majority of the developed and developing countries of the world alike. They have to work one day and the next day give a birth to a baby by section. Really this system means that only unemployed have enough time if not money to have babies
Jul 2, 2013 12:31PM

"'Despite its lavish spending,' the paper noted, 'the United States has one of the highest rates of both infant and maternal death among industrialized nations [. . ..']"


But the mortality stats aren't so out of line for a Third World nation, or a banana republic.


Could that mean . . ..

Jul 2, 2013 2:38PM

SO - Another example of why a single health care system is needed for all Americans. Our country lags behind in health care and education. Both are in need of reform ASAP so we can compete in an every changing global economy.  

Jul 2, 2013 11:39AM
They state the average cost, but what is the average that someone pays? That's the true cost. I've yet to see EOB that shows my insurance paying what the hospital/doctor charges.
Jul 2, 2013 3:33PM
You can only both induce competition and lower costs if the consumer is confronted directly with the bill.  Health insurance incentivizes higher health care costs just as student financial aid incentivizes higher college tuitions and fees.  Everybody at the table is a glutton with absolutely no motivation to curb his appetite.
Jul 2, 2013 6:31PM
Could that be why there is a growing trend to give birth at home with the help of a midwife? Sheesh. Just stick me in the elevator and come back in 12 hours, doc.
Jul 2, 2013 3:45PM
If the Caesarean rate went down in this country, hospitals would lose a lot of money. That's probably the real reason rates don't go down.  Also, all that extra stuff like fetal monitoring is profitable!
Healthy pregnancies are a significant source of income for hospitals!   A lot of obstetricians do take Medicaid, because it is profitable for them!

Jul 3, 2013 8:38AM
They take everything your family has when you come into this world and they take what ever is left when you leave this world. Welcome aboard - now get off my ship.
Jul 2, 2013 4:26PM
Jul 2, 2013 4:18PM
For-profit = population reduction by making children UNAFFORDABLE.

Hence, RECORD LOW BIRTH RATES like today's America.

Oct 11, 2013 3:39PM
Maybe these woman need to think of the child first !!!! if they CAN NOT AFFORD to bring a child into this world why are they having one ??????  To let the child grow up hungry, and homeless. Their future is almost always the same Jails, institutions,  or death. Why is it  so many of us not have any common sense.
Jul 2, 2013 2:31PM
Join the rest of the 80% in the world and stop circumcising baby boys when born.   That will cut unnecessary costs.  Only in America do we do this to our baby boys and the rest of the world's men do just fine.
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