March 5 (UPI) -- For an expecting mother, a hospital delivery can help bring into the world a new life but at a heavy cost.
About 13 percent of mothers-to-be who received unexpected bills from their first deliveries switched hospitals for their second deliveries, according to research published Tuesday in Health Affairs. That move to another hospital made it 56 percent less likely than those expecting mothers would get another surprise bill.
"When someone gets a surprise out-of-network medical bill, they're pretty much helpless to respond at that episode of care," said Benjamin Chartock, a researcher at University of Pennsylvania and study lead author, in a news release. "But if patients require subsequent health care in another situation, they may have a chance to respond in subsequent procedures."
The study was designed to examine how patients responded to surprise medical bills. The researchers said it made sense to focus on hospital deliveries because its elective surgery patients are most likely to repeat.
Women who go to hospitals to deliver babies are often unaware of the associated costs of post-natal care. Howeverm for some women, convenience is more important than savings.
To have her costs covered by insurance, an expecting mother may choose to have her baby delivered at an in-network hospital that uses in-network obstetricians. Her anesthesiologists may still be out-of-network, which would tack on unexpected costs she may not be able to cover.
Some new mothers will choose facilities closer to their homes to receive follow-up care versus saving money by visiting a cheaper office farther from their home.
"We do see high rates of switching that may be mothers who are trading off the financial benefits with potential costs of not seeing the doctor who they would have otherwise wanted or the facility they would have otherwise wanted," Chartock said.
This study comes as outpatient costs have hit a new high in the U.S.
And simply having insurance, even a plan considered top of the line, might not keep patients from paying expected costs.
To address the problem, an order from the Trump administration took effect this year requiring hospitals to start listing their prices for each procedure.
The researchers say this study should open up the conversation for more transparency in hospital billing.
"This suggests that laws protecting patients from liability for unavoidable out-of-network medical bills may significantly benefit patients," the authors wrote.