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1 in 5 families receives surprise bill after childbirth, study finds

Many families receive unexpected medical bills after childbirth, a new study has found. Photo by PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay
Many families receive unexpected medical bills after childbirth, a new study has found. Photo by PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay

July 2 (UPI) -- Nearly one in five families in the United States receives a surprise medical bill for healthcare services provided during the birth of a child, a study published Friday by JAMA Health Forum found.

On average, these bills were $750, but more than one-third of families included in the analysis were charged more than $2,000 on these unexpected bills, the data showed.

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Anesthesia was the most common source of the additional charges, in just over 16% of the cases described in the study, the researchers said.

"[These] surprise bills [are] in addition to the roughly $3,000 that privately insured families pay out-of-pocket on average for deliveries and newborn hospitalizations," study co-author Dr. Kao-Ping Chua told UPI in an email.

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"Families need to save as much money as they can before the delivery so that they have the funds both to pay the hospital bill and any surprise bills that might occur," said Chua, general pediatrician at University of Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor.

That $3,000 figure is from a previous analysis of out-of-pocket costs for childbirth by Chua and his colleagues published earlier this year by the journal Pediatrics.

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Some of these unexpected charges may be mitigated by the so-called "No Surprises Act," which was approved by Congress in December and takes effect Jan. 1, according to the American Hospital Association.

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The new law is designed to protect consumers from bills for "out-of-network-care at in-network facilities" that reflect charges not covered by private insurers.

For this study, the researchers analyzed insurance claim and billing data for 95,384 families and 96,881 newborn hospitalizations.

Of the families included in the analysis, 17,949, or about 19%, had at least one surprise bill for the delivery, newborn hospitalization or both, the data showed.

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Although the average surprise bill was about $750, 6,417 families, or about 36%, received unexpected charges of more than $2,000.

Among the 32,203 Caesarean deliveries included in the study, 21% resulted in an unexpected bill totaling more than $1,800.

About 9% of non-cesarean births yielded a surprise bill, and these unexpected charges were roughly $900 on average.

For deliveries in which the newborn required treatment in the neonatal intensive care unit, 16% resulted in a surprise bill.

"We found that anesthesia for vaginal birth, such as epidural placement, was the biggest reason for surprise bills [and] that surprise bills were more common when Caesarean section occurred," Chua said.

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"This suggests that families may be able to decrease their risk of getting a surprise bill by planning for a delivery with fewer interventions," he said.

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