The American Way of Birth: Pay More

…[C]hildbirth in the United States is uniquely expensive, and maternity and newborn care constitute the single biggest category of hospital payouts for most commercial insurers and state Medicaid programs. The cumulative costs of approximately four million annual births is well over $50 billion.

And though maternity care costs far less in other developed countries than it does in the United States, studies show that their citizens do not have less access to care or to high-tech care during pregnancy than Americans.

“It’s not primarily that we get a different bundle of services when we have a baby,” said Gerard Anderson, an economist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who studies international health costs. “It’s that we pay individually for each service and pay more for the services we receive.”

Those payment incentives for providers also mean that American women with normal pregnancies tend to get more of everything, necessary or not, from blood tests to ultrasound scans.

The New York Times has published a long report on the U.S.’s unique financial requirements for childbirth. (For further maddening information, you can watch Ricki Lake’s The Business of Being Born on Netflix.) The entire read is a lot to process, but it’s this sentence that you’ll probably repeat over and over again in your head today, or at least until your brain explodes: “In most other developed countries, comprehensive maternity care is free or cheap for all, considered vital to ensuring the health of future generations.” Alas: