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How Much Does It Cost to Have a Baby? Hospital Study Finds Huge Price Differences

Facilities’ charges range from under $2,000 to $12,000 for uncomplicated delivery

Which hospital parents pick to deliver their baby can have serious cost consequences, according to a new study published in Health Affairs.

Hospital costs for women who had no maternal or obstetric risk factors to complicate childbirth ranged from less than $2,000 to nearly $12,000, the analysis of discharge data found. The wide variation in cost means that for expectant parents, it can pay to shop around.

The variability was surprising, co-author Dr. Jessica Illuzzi told Kaiser Health News. Illuzzi is an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine.

“We limited our sample to low-risk women, a uniform group, so finding that variability” was unexpected, she said.

The study analyzed data from 267,120 births at 463 hospitals that were collected from the 2011 Nationwide Inpatient Sample, part of a project sponsored by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Estimated average hospital childbirth facility costs per maternity stay ranged from $1,189 to $11,986, with a median of $4,215. The figures did not include professional fees for obstetricians, midwives, or anesthesiologists, who generally bill separately for their services.

Since consumers increasingly face high deductibles and increased cost sharing for medical care, giving birth at a high-cost hospital could add significantly to their out-of-pocket costs, Illuzzi said. Some government agencies and other organizations now report data related to childbirth, including cesarean delivery rates and details about delivery costs and charges by hospital.

The federal government’s Hospital Compare website reports the percentage of pregnant women who had elective deliveries 1 to 3 weeks early that weren’t medically necessary. The study found that hospitals with higher rates of cesarean deliveries, among other factors, were more likely to have higher facility costs. Hospital rates of cesarean delivery for low-risk births varied widely, from 2% to 39%, the study found.

The study also showed that pricier care didn’t necessarily lead to better outcomes. Hospitals with higher estimated costs were significantly more likely to have serious complications among low-risk childbirths.

The study noted that adding professional fees to the cost estimates and including newborn care in addition to maternal care might result in different cost patterns than those found by the authors.

Nearly 4 million children are born each year, and childbirth is the number 1 reason for hospital admissions.

“There’s so much attention being paid to the cost of care today, but little attention is paid to maternity costs, the leading cause of hospitalization,” Illuzzi said.

Sources: Kaiser Health News; July 17, 2015; and Health Affairs; July 2015.

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