NEW YORK — Welcoming a new child into the world is a dream for many parents. Unfortunately, a new study reveals the harsh reality that follows for many families after childbirth — mounting medical bills and financial debt. Researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital find that most parents become financially burdened by the out-of-pocket medical costs from their pregnancy and the delivery itself. The crushing price of delivery hurt low-income parents the most with costs taking up over 20 percent of their annual incomes.
“Pregnancy and delivery are critical periods of time with high health care utilization. Our study demonstrates that this health care utilization can be a financial burden for expectant parents,” says corresponding author Jessica A. Peterson, MD, Maternal Fetal Medicine Fellow in Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in a media release. “This burden primarily affects those at lower incomes, especially if they have private insurance.”
The study analyzed data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey from 2008 to 2016 looking at the prevalence, trends, and risk factors for costly health expenses during the year parents delivered their child.
The findings showed that parents delivering a child were at a higher risk for spending an enormous amount on medical bills that would create a financial burden compared to people who were not pregnant. In addition, new parents were more likely to report unemployment and high rates of gaining and losing Medicaid during their delivery year.
Insurance premiums raise the cost of having children even further
Low-income parents were hit the hardest with medical bills they could not afford and out-of-pocket payments for healthcare amounting to more than 10 percent of their annual income. Estimates show low-income families spend around 19 percent of their household income on healthcare expenses. That percentage rose to 30 percent when you include health insurance premiums in those costs.
“Given the association between pregnancy, delivery and catastrophic health expenditure—as well as the protective effects of public insurance—it is imperative that we create policies that not only ensure insurance coverage for pregnant people, but also make it affordable,” Dr. Peterson says. “Possible avenues to improve access to affordable health insurance include Medicaid expansion, as well as regulation of insurance cost-sharing and benefit designs.”
The findings appear in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.