Dad Investigates Just How Much Giving Birth In a Hospital Really Costs, and Learns No One Will Tell You

Johnny Harris, a newbie dad and International Video reporter for VOX, recently made a video showing his valiant attempts to figure out exactly how much the birth of his child would cost. And, well … he ran into a few roadblocks. In the 8-minute video, which is equal parts amusing and depressing, Harris called six different hospitals 30 times over the course of two weeks — only to learn that hospitals won’t actually disclose the exact cost of childbirth until after the delivery.

What he did find was a frustrating system that is almost impossible to navigate. Harris spent a lot of time on hold, or being transferred from one office to another. And when I say a lot of time, I’m talking hours of his life spent listening to maddening hold music over the phone, only to wind up chatting with someone who didn’t actually have an answer for him. That’s right — no answer to what should be a simple question: “How much is it going to cost to have our baby?” He didn’t even get a price range.

After a lot of time searching, Harris eventually found a price consultant who estimated that the cost of his child’s birth would be $347. The actual price, which they later discovered after the delivery, was actually $841.

As I watched the video, I couldn’t help but think about the births of my first two children, because the cost of each varied dramatically. I was a college student when we had our first. My wife Mel was working full time at a hardware store, while I waited tables. Sure, we had insurance, but it wasn’t all that great, and we ran into a very similar problem to Johnny and his wife. We tried to do the math on how much it would cost, but never really got a sure figure, so we simply saved everything we could. My first child ended up coming a little early, after Mel came down with toxemia and had to have an emergency C-section. Everything worked out fine, and once it was all said and done, we were stuck with a bill of about $5,000 — more than double the amount that we’d saved. The rest we paid off over the next few months.

With our next child, things became a little more complicated. We had the same insurance, and were giving birth at the same hospital, so we saved close to $5,000 assuming that we would have a similar experience as we did with our son. But our daughter was born with under-developed lungs, and ended up in the NICU for about two weeks. The bill that came at the end of those 14 days was nothing short of astronomical: It totaled over $80,000. At one point, my daughter had to be transferred to another hospital 30 minutes away, and it cost nearly $5,000.

If I’ve learned anything from all of this, it’s that the cost of having a child can vary dramatically depending on the birth, the complications, and your insurance coverage. And honestly, when I think about that, I can see why the hospitals in this video shy away from giving a concrete quote of how much childbirth might cost. Because the truth is, no two deliveries are ever the same.

However, that doesn’t make this any less frustrating to parents who are simply trying to plan for the most important change in their lives: the addition of a new child. From Day 1, children are (obviously) expensive; and if we as parents are going to make it all work, there needs to be some sort of better indicator of how much bringing a child into this world could cost us. This becomes particularly pressing when you consider the fact that medical pricing is overwhelmingly inflated here in America. According to a 2015 BBC article, “The US is by far the most expensive place in the world to give birth.”

The fact that Harris couldn’t even get a ballpark figure from a hospital makes it incredibly difficult for him to shop around to find the most financially manageable care for his family. And trust me, it becomes almost impossible to find a better price the moment of. For example, when my daughter was transported from one hospital to another, with her life on the line, I didn’t put up my hands and say, “Hold on now. How much is this ride going to cost? What are my pricing options?” I didn’t think about any of that, I just thought about my poor sweet baby girl being able to breathe again. It wasn’t until I got the bill in the mail that I realized I was probably taken advantage of due to the situation.

And ultimately, that’s the whole frustrating point of this report. It shows a father trying to make an educated financial decision for his family — so that he and his wife can plan ahead and give a good start to their child’s life — only for him to realize that it’s nearly impossible to do so. And while they did eventually get an estimate from someone, it still was only half of what they wound up paying.

Of course, in the grand scheme of medical bills, $841 really isn’t all that bad. But this couple was lucky enough to have decent insurance. Not everyone is so lucky.

Harris ends the video with a statement that I think pretty much sums up the frustration many parents all over the country may feel: “The system is broken.”

Like Harris, I feel the same way. I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know how to make childbirth more predictable or affordable. But what I do know is that it’s all very aggravating and confusing when you’re trying to make sense of it all, and only once the bill arrives in the mail do you get the full scope of things — whatever that may be. Aren’t we owed a little more transparency?

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