An impossible task: Finding out the true cost of maternity services

Figuring out how much a hospital charges for a newborn delivery is apparently an impossible task, according to Vox.

"You would think with such a common procedure, the price would be generally well-known," writes Vox reporter Johnny Harris, who recorded his quest to find out the price for maternity care. But he noted that there can even be a 10-fold difference for prices of a hospital room. The video showed Harris calling hospital after hospital trying to determine the pricing, to no avail. On the rare occasion when he spoke to a financial representative at the hospital, he was told he could not be given the cost until after the delivery.

And even when he received a firm price: $347, it turns out that wasn't the actual price. It was nearly $500 higher, representing the out-of-pocket costs for Harris and his wife's insurance.

Harris is not alone. Few states compel hospitals to offer price transparency. Only five states out of 50 received a passing grade on price transparency last year, according to the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute and Catalyst for Payment Reform.

There may be a good business reason that hospital's don't provide prices, according to an article on "I can see why the hospitals in this video shy away from giving a concrete quote of how much childbirth might cost. Because the truth is, no two deliveries are ever the same," concluded that article's author, Clint Edwards. That, he suggested, may provide a buffer against clinical unpredictability.

That's because Edwards' two children were both born with complications. The second child's costs exceeded $80,000.

And even if consumers are savvy and persistent enough to shop around for services such as imaging, they could wind up encountering quality variations that could make the delivery of care more challenging, as another Vox reporter discovered last year.

To learn more:
- watch the Vox video 
- check out the article