Out-of-Pocket Costs for Childbirth More Than $3000

Will Pass

June 29, 2021

Families with private health insurance pay around $3,000 for newborn delivery and hospitalization, while adding neonatal intensive care can push the bill closer to $5,000, based on a retrospective look at almost 400,000 episodes.

The findings suggest that privately insured families need prenatal financial counseling, as well as screening for financial hardship after delivery, reported lead author Kao-Ping Chua, MD, PhD, assistant professor and health policy researcher in the department of pediatrics and the Susan B. Meister Child Health Evaluation and Research Center at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues.

"Concern is growing regarding the high and rising financial burden of childbirth for privately insured families," the investigators wrote in Pediatrics. "Previous studies assessing this burden have focused on out-of-pocket spending for maternal care, including hospitalizations for delivery. However, there are no recent national data on out-of-pocket spending across the childbirth episode, including both deliveries and newborn hospitalizations."

To address this knowledge gap, Chua and colleagues turned to Optum’s deidentified Clinformatics Data Mart, comprising 12 million privately insured individuals across the United States. The investigators identified 398,410 childbirth episodes occurring between 2016 and 2019. Each episode was defined as one delivery and at least one newborn hospitalization under the same family plan.

Out-of-pocket cost included copayment plus coinsurance and deductibles. Primary outcomes included mean total out-of-pocket spending and proportion of episodes exceeding $5,000 or $10,000. Subgroup analyses compared differences in spending between episodes involving neonatal intensive care or cesarean birth.

The mean out-of-pocket spending was $2,281 for delivery and $788 for newborn hospitalization, giving a total of $3,068 per childbirth episode. Coinsurance and deductibles accounted for much of that cost, at 55.8% and 42.1%, respectively, whereas copayments accounted for a relatively minor portion (2.2%).

Almost all episodes (95%) cost more than zero dollars, while 17.1% cost more than $5,000 and 1.0% cost more than $10,000. Total mean out-of-pocket spending was higher for episodes involving cesarean birth ($3,389) or neonatal intensive care ($4,969), the latter of which cost more than $10,000 in 8.8% of episodes.

"Because details on plan benefit design were unavailable, the generalizability of findings to all privately insured Americans is unclear," the investigators noted. "However, the proportion of childbirth episodes covered by high-deductible health plans in this study is consistent with the prevalence of such plans among Americans with employer-sponsored insurance."

The findings suggest that financial reform is needed, Chua and colleagues concluded.

"To avoid imposing undue financial burden on families, private insurers should improve childbirth coverage," they wrote. "An incremental step would be providing first-dollar coverage of deliveries and newborn hospitalizations before deductibles are met. Ideally, however, insurers would waive most or all cost-sharing for these hospitalizations, consistent with the approach taken by Medicaid programs and many developed countries."

According to Madeline Sutton, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, the size of the study is commendable, but some details are lacking.

"Although the overall sample size allows for a robust analysis, deciding to not report the confidence intervals in this report does not allow for understanding of [the findings with] smaller sample sizes," Sutton said in an interview.

(Chua and colleagues noted that they did not report confidence intervals because "all differences between subgroups were significant owing to large sample sizes.")

"Still," Sutton went on, "this is an important study that has implications for financial counseling that may need to be a part of preconceptional, prenatal, and postnatal visits for privately insured families to help with planning and to decrease the chances of childbirth-related financial hardships. Additionally, policy-level changes that decrease or eliminate these private insurance–related childbirth-episode costs that may negatively impact some families with lower incomes, are warranted."

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Chua disclosed a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, while Moniz is supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Sutton had no relevant disclosures.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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