British royal born in fanciest ward :$15000. Average US birth: billed $30,000; paid $18,000. What’s wrong here?
Rosenthal wrote a lengthly, excellent article for the Times last month detailing the extremely high costs of giving birth in the United States compared with most other developed countries.
The $15,000 figure comes from estimates of how much one would have to pay to deliver in the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital, where the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to a son on Monday. This is expensive for the United Kingdom, but, here in the United States, it would actually be a pretty great deal!
“The average total price charged for pregnancy and newborn care was about $30,000 for a vaginal delivery and $50,000 for a C-section,” Rosenthal reported, “with commercial insurers paying out an average of $18,329 and $27,866.” That data comes from a Truven Analytics report that recently looked at the high cost of pregnancy in the United States.
The comparison isn’t totally apples to apples; Truven includes the full cost of pregnancy care, not just the delivery. But even when you compare delivery costs, as the International Federation for Health Plans does, you see that the United States is (no surprise!) far and away the most expensive place to deliver a baby.
What drives our high pregnancy health costs? One factor Rosenthal hits on is our billing system, where each item — no matter how tiny — gets billed to the patient. In other countries, doctors receive a flat fee for the mother’s care.
“Only in the United States is pregnancy generally billed item by item, a practice that has spiraled in the past decade, doctors say,” she wrote. “No item is too small. Charges that 20 years ago were lumped together and covered under the general hospital fee are now broken out, leading to more bills and inflated costs. There are separate fees for the delivery room, the birthing tub and each night in a semiprivate hospital room, typically thousands of dollars. Even removing the placenta can be coded as a separate charge.”