ANN ARBOR, Mich. — No one ever said having children is supposed to be easy on parents’ wallets, but many U.S. families are maxing out their funds before their child even reaches six months old. That’s the main finding of a recent study conducted by Michigan Medicine that examined the average American family’s out-of-pocket costs associated with pregnancy, delivery, and three months of postpartum care.
In 2008, the average out-of-pocket cost for maternity care was $3,069. By 2015, the cost was as high as $4,569. These numbers point to a clear trend. It’s getting more and more expensive to become a parent in the U.S. as the years go by. This is especially noteworthy considering that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is supposed to protect American families from breaking the bank during pregnancy. The ACA requires large, employer healthcare plans to cover maternity care. Such plans are used by 50% of U.S. women.
Why, then, is it still so expensive to give birth? According to the study, the ACA contains an oversight of sorts that is seriously harming countless American families’ bottom lines. While the ACA does in fact require full coverage for preventive services, including pap smears and mammograms, it contains few restrictions regarding insurance plans’ co-pays, deductibles, and cost-sharing for maternity care.
“We were surprised to learn that the vast majority of women paid for critical health services tied to having a baby,” says lead author Dr. Michelle Moniz, an obstetrician gynecologist at Michigan Medicine’s Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital and a researcher with the university’s Institute of Healthcare Policy and Innovation, in a release.
“These are not small co-pays. The costs are staggering,” she adds.
In all, 657,061 women enrolled in 84,178 employer-sponsored health plans were included in the research, all of whom had been hospitalized during childbirth at some point between 2008-2015. A staggering 98% of included women were found to pay at least some out-of-pocket costs for their pregnancy.
Researchers also noted that childbirth is among the leading reasons for hospitalization among women of reproductive age. Furthermore, C-sections cost more than vaginal births; the cost of just a C-section alone in 2008, on average, was $3,364 and $5,161 by 2015.
The percentage of overall maternity costs that mothers are paying for is also on the rise. In 2008, moms giving birth vaginally usually covered 21% of the overall cost, a significant rise over the 13% overall cost covered by moms giving birth in 2008. For women with C-sections, they paid up to 15% of the overall costs in 2015, compared to 10% in 2008.
The United States carries the dubious distinction of being among the most expensive nations in the world to give birth, yet also one of the only developed countries with a maternal mortality rate on the rise.
“The increasing maternal health costs burdening families over time is concerning. Research tells us that out-of-pocket costs for healthcare are often associated with skipped care,” Moniz comments. “These financial burdens put women at risk of delaying or missing maternity care, which we know can lead to poor outcomes for women and babies. Restricting patient spending for maternity care may be an important opportunity to improve maternal and neonatal health for American families.”
Moniz and her team recommend that lawmakers focus on these problems regarding co-pays and deductible plans in order to reverse this troubling trend.
“There is strong rationale for policymakers to consider policies to protect the average consumer,” she concludes. “Maternity and childbirth care are essential health services that promote the well-being of families across our country. Reducing patients’ costs for these high-value services makes sense. We all want babies to have the best possible start in life.”
The study is published in Health Affairs.