U.S. hospital maternity costs highest in the world

Maternity care at U.S. hospitals is by far the most expensive in the world, and patients who lack coverage for such services are often left in the dark about what they will have to pay until they receive a bill, the New York Times reported.

One expectant mother, New Hampshire resident Renee Martin, received a cost estimate from a local hospital that ranged from $4,000 to $45,000. "It was unreal. How could you not know this? You're a hospital," she told the NYT.

The price opacity regarding maternity care dovetails with reports earlier this year that hospitals were all but disregarding their chargemasters to charge patients whatever amounts they please.

According to the NYT, the cost for insured maternity stays rose 49 percent for vaginal births and 41 percent for cesarean section deliveries. Many hospitals no longer lump charges into a single fee, and the average out-of-pocket costs for maternity services is $3,400, compared to a nominal fee just a decade ago.

The NYT cited that mothers are older and obstetricians tend to practice defensive medicine because of their high malpractice insurance costs. But many other factors come into play when it comes to the cost of maternity care.

"It's not primarily that we get a different bundle of services when we have a baby. It's that we pay individually for each service and pay more for the services we receive," Gerard Anderson, a Johns Hopkins University healthcare economist, told the NYT.

Meanwhile, the rate of maternal death in the U.S. is one of the highest among industrialized countries.

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