Why does it cost $32,093 just to give birth in America?

Our company receives many inquiries like this. Stella had approached us last April, emotionally distraught over the thousands of dollars in medical bills she was receiving related to the premature birth of her triplets. One of our expert medical billing advocates was assigned to take her case. She was very happy with the favorable outcome (a reduction in her final balance by an incredible amount), and so were we. Like Stella, we may be able to help you too. 

The US is the most expensive nation in the world in which to have a baby – and it may factor into thousands of bankruptcies each year.

Tue 16 Jan 2018

Jessica Glenza in New York – The Guardian

Stella Apo

Stella Apo Osae-Twum and her husband did everything by the book. They went to a hospital covered by insurance, saw an obstetrician in their plan, but when her three sons – triplets – were born prematurely, bills started rolling in.

The hospital charged her family $877,000 in total.

“When the bills started coming, to be very honest, I was an emotional wreck,” said Apo Osae-Twum. “And this is in the midst of trying to take care of three babies who were premature.”

America is the most expensive nation in the world to give birth. When things go wrong – – from preeclampsia to premature birth – costs can quickly spiral into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. While the data is limited, experts in medical debt say the costs of childbirth factor into thousands of family bankruptcies in America each year.

It’s nearly impossible to put a price tag on giving birth in America, since costs vary dramatically by state and hospital. But one 2013 study by the advocacy group Childbirth Connection found that, on average, hospitals charged $32,093 for an uncomplicated vaginal birth and newborn care, and $51,125 for a standard caesarean section and newborn care. Insurance typically covers a large chunk of those costs, but families are still often on the hook for thousands of dollars.

Another estimate from the International Federation of Health Plans put average charges for vaginal birth in the US at $10,808 in 2015, but that estimate excludes newborn care and other related medical services. That is quintuple the IFHP estimate for another industrialized nation, Spain, where it costs $1,950 to deliver a child, and the cost is covered by the government.

Even the luxurious accommodations provided to the Duchess of Cambridge for the birth of the royal family’s daughter Princess Charlotte – believed to have cost up to $18,000 – were cheaper than many average births in America.

Despite these high costs, the US consistently ranks poorly in health outcomes for mothers and infants. The US rate of infant mortality is 6.1 for every 1,000 live births, higher than Slovakia and Hungary, and nearly three times the rate of Japan and Finland. The US also has the worst rate of maternal mortality in the developed world. That means America is simultaneously the most expensive and one of the riskiest industrialized nations in which to have children.

American families rarely shoulder the full costs of childbirth on their own – but still pay far more than in other industrialized nations. Nearly half of American mothers are covered by Medicaid, a program available to low income households that covers nearly all birth costs. But people with private insurance still regularly pay thousands of dollars in co-pays, deductibles and partially reimbursed services when they give birth. Childbirth Connection put the average out of pocket childbirth costs for mothers with insurance at $3,400 in 2013.

In Apo Osae-Twum’s case, private insurance covered most of the $877,000 bill, but her family was responsible for $51,000.

Apo Osae-Twum was the victim of what is called “surprise billing”. In these cases, patients have no way of knowing whether an ambulance company, emergency room physician, anesthesiologist – or, in her case, a half dozen neonatologists – are members of the patient’s insurance plan.

Even though Apo Osae-Twum went to a hospital covered by her insurance, none of the neonatologists who attended to her sons were “in-network”. Therefore the insurance reimbursed far less of their bills.

There are few studies that estimate the number of families who go bankrupt from this type of unexpected expense. One of the best estimates is now outdated – conducted 10 years ago. But one of the authors of that research, Dr Steffie Woolhandler, estimates as many as 56,000 families each year still go bankrupt from adding a new family member through birth or adoption.

“Why any society should let anyone be bankrupted by medical bills is beyond me, frankly,” said Woolhandler. “It just doesn’t happen in other western democracies.”

Since Woolhandler conducted that research in 2007, 20 million Americans gained health insurance through the Affordable Care Act health reform law, and consumer protections were added for pregnant women. But Republicans and the Trump administration have pledged to repeal these consumer protections.

“People face a double whammy when they’re faced with a medical condition,” said Woolhandler. Bankruptcy is often, “the combined effect of medical bills and the need to take time off work”.

There is no nationwide law that provides paid family leave in the US, meaning most families forego income to have a child.

And although childbirth is one of the most common hospital procedures in the nation, prices are completely opaque. That means Americans don’t know how much a birth will cost in advance.

Dr Renee Hsia, an emergency department physician at the University of California San Francisco and a health policy expert likened the experience to buying a car, but not knowing whether the dealership sells Fords or Lamborghinis. “You don’t know, are you going to have a complication that is a lot more expensive? And is it going to be financially ruinous?”

According to Hsia’s 2013 study, a “California woman could be charged as little as $3,296 or as much as $37,227 for a vaginal delivery, and $8,312 to $70,908 for a caesarean section, depending on which hospital she was admitted to.”

Apo Osae-Twum and her family only found relief after a professional medical billing advocate agreed to take their case. Medical Cost Advocate in New Jersey, where Derek Fitteron is CEO, negotiated with doctors to lower the charges to $1,300.

“This is why people are scared to go to the doctor, why they go bankrupt, and why they forego other things to get care from their kids,” said Hsia. “I find it heartbreaking when patients say… ‘How much does this cost?’

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/16/why-does-it-cost-32093-just-to-give-birth-in-america?CMP=fb_gu

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The battle of the anecdotes: Gird yourself for Obamacare’s newest fight

By Sarah Kliff

Below is an interesting piece by Sarah Kliff on how the Affordable Care Act is changing the American health-care system — and being changed by it. At this stage, the report card for the program depends largely on who you ask.

Fliers promoting the Get Covered Illinois health insurance marketplace sit in a box at the Bureau County Health Department offices in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. Today’s deadline for Americans to sign up for Obamacare health coverage effective Jan. 1 was extended until midnight tomorrow as heavy traffic to the online enrollment system caused a queuing system to be activated.

If you want to believe Obamacare is going great, you should call up Linda Browne. She’s a 62-year-old retired accountant from California who already has an appointment to see her new primary-care doctor at Kaiser Permanente, the new health insurer she signed up with through Covered California.

“I thought I would have to wait a long time,” Browne says. “But when I called, they said she had an appointment Wednesday for a physical.”
If you’d prefer to believe Obamacare is going terribly, then Michael D. Scott has got a story for you. He’s a 36-year-old Texan who turned up at a pharmacy last week trying to fill a $700 prescription for anti-seizure medication — only to find the technicians had no record of his enrollment.
“I’m stuck,” says Scott, who takes the prescription to treat a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. “I’m going to have to start buying a couple days’ worth on my own if they can’t figure things out. It’s disappointing.”

Both Browne and Scott signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Browne has had the law work pretty well; Scott has spent hours on the phone with customer service representatives (actually, he spent one hour and 37 minutes on his last call — yes, he timed it). And stories like theirs are about to become central to the next Obamacare fight, what I like to think of as the battle of the anecdotes.

The battle of the anecdotes is all-but-guaranteed because access to health care is really difficult to measure, even more so than the number of people who have enrolled or how well HealthCare.gov is functioning. With enrollment, for example, HealthCare.gov can track all the people who pick a private insurance plan, as can the 14-state based insurance exchanges. That’s how we know 2.1 million people have selected private insurance plans (although we don’t know how many have paid their first month’s premium, which is due, for January coverage, by this Friday).

The federal government can gauge how well HealthCare.gov is working by tracking how long it takes pages to load, or how many enrollment files — known as ‘834s’ — contain errors. And the call centers know, too, how long customers have to wait to get a person on the line.

But when it comes to access to health care, there’s no analogous metric. Our health-care system is really fragmented. Since HealthCare.gov shoppers are buying private coverage, and not a government plan, we have no central clearing house to understand whether more shoppers are having an experience like Scott in Texas — or like Browne in California.

Nonprofit institutions do study these types of questions. The Commonwealth Fund, for example, regularly looks at how long patients in different countries have to wait to see a primary-care doctor or a particular surgeon. But these surveys take months to conduct and analyze, meaning that we will probably have to wait until late 2014 or early 2015 to get a sense of what access looks like under the Affordable Care Act.

Enter the anecdote, which can be great to understand how new policy programs are impacting the way that Americans receive health care. But they can also be a really terrible way to gauge whether Obamacare is going great — or is a complete disaster. One or two stories don’t do a great job of capturing the experience of the millions of Americans who have signed up for health plans.

And even the anecdotes themselves can be nuanced, portrayed in different ways to make Obamacare seem great, or horrible. Take Browne: She called for an appointment in her new network the morning of Jan. 2. But she couldn’t get through to a real, live person until that afternoon; she kept getting a message that said “all circuits are busy.”

(more…)

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