The cost of giving birth in the United States has tripled since 1996, according to a front-page New York Times investigation published today, and is “uniquely expensive” among industrialized nations. American deliveries average $9,800, compared to $4,500 in France and $2,600 in Britain. That’s largely because hospitals and doctors in other countries charge a flat fee for a nine-month buffet of pregnancy care, whereas Americans charge expectant moms à la carte for every blood test, more ultrasounds than necessary, the epidural, and even placenta removal.
Experts say that Americans who want to keep costs down should get used to giving birth with a midwife, as opposed to obstetrician, and should not “buy into [their] tendency to do a lot of tests,” but for now, that’s not nearly enough. One woman interviewed refused unnecessary ultrasounds and delivered her son by midwife twelve minutes after arriving at the hospital, without drugs. Her hospital bill was still more than $6,000.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies will be required to cover maternity care starting next year. But if costs remain high, the Times writes, it “could break the bank for many states.” Medicaid, the national-state health insurance for low income Americans, covers more than 40 percent of births nationally, and paid an average of $9,131 per vaginal birth in 2011. (Medicaid covers more than half of deliveries in Texas, where Rick Perry recently turned down billions of federal money to expand its funding.) But we definitely have the cutest, healthiest babies and moms ever, right? Nope: “Despite its lavish spending, the United States has one of the highest rates of both infant and maternal death among industrialized nations.”