Having a baby? Price tag for delivery varies widely - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Having a baby? Price tag for delivery varies widely

Updated: Jan 16, 2014 09:59 AM
© Jupiterimages / Comstock / Getty Images / Thinkstock © Jupiterimages / Comstock / Getty Images / Thinkstock

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Jan. 16, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The bill for delivering a healthy baby varies enormously among California hospitals, with new mothers facing cost differences of 8- to 10-fold depending on the hospital where they end up giving birth.

California women were charged between $3,296 and $37,227 for an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, depending on which hospital they visited, researchers report.

In addition, the investigators found that for a cesarean delivery, women were billed from $8,312 to nearly $71,000.

This amount of variation represents a huge problem for the consumer-oriented medical system that health care reform has promised to create, said lead author Dr. Renee Hsia, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Hsia and her colleagues found that they could only account for 35 percent of the difference between hospital bills, even after considering such variables as length of a patient's hospital stay, the competitiveness of a market, and the ownership and operation of a hospital.

That means 65 percent of what a California hospital charges for a normal delivery is based on nothing the researchers could identify.

"The proportion of charges we are unable to explain signifies that there is a significant gap in the efficiency in which we charge for hospital care," said Hsia, who is also a faculty member of the UCSF Institute for Health Policy Studies.

There's no regulation over what hospitals can charge patients, she noted, and patients often don't know beforehand what they will pay for their care.

"Hospitals can charge whatever they want. They can mark up their costs based on whatever they feel they should be, and 'should' is a very subjective determination," Hsia said. "Even though we talk about consumer empowerment, that can't be a reality until patients are able to obtain information about what they will be charged."

Hospitals with less competition or in markets with more uninsured people tended to charge significantly less, the researchers found. For-profit hospitals and hospitals located in places with higher costs of living or a more severely ill patient population tended to charge more.

To make matters even more confusing, the investigators found that hospitals wound up only receiving about one-third of what they charged, due to discount rates that the hospitals set up with private insurers.

On average, the estimated discounted prices paid by insurers amounted to 37 percent of the original hospital bill. The authors calculated that hospitals billed $1.37 billion in "excess charges" that were never paid for these births.

These discounts vary from insurer to insurer and hospital to hospital, and even vary within the same hospital, said Stuart Guterman, vice president for Medicare and cost control at The Commonwealth Fund.

"The only people who get stuck with paying billed charges are people who don't have health insurance, because they don't have anyone negotiating down their rate," Guterman said. "It makes it very hard to understand what's going on, and it is a symptom of a health care market that's out of control because there's no transparency about what hospitals charge and what they get paid for each service."

The study authors reviewed data from 2011 on nearly 110,000 cases in California involving women with private medical insurance, including about 77,000 for uncomplicated vaginal deliveries and about 33,000 for uncomplicated C-section births.

The researchers focused on newborn delivery because it is the most common cause for hospitalization, and provides a window into hospitals' billing practices, Hsia explained.

Hsia said that she fully expects that this variation in billing can be found in medical services provided by hospitals throughout the United States.

Hsia and Guterman both agreed that hospital billing has a direct impact on all health consumers. These bills affect the co-payments and deductibles a person has to cover, and can drive an uninsured person to bankruptcy.

"There are legitimate reasons for the cost of care to vary from one place to another, but not as much as they do," Guterman said. "We need to understand whether there's any relationship between that price and the quality of the care. We need to understand that relationship better to know we're paying the right price for a service."

The study findings appear in the Jan. 16 online edition of BMJ Open.

More information

For more about hospital delivery costs, visit Childbirth Connection.

Copyright © 2014 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

  • Medical News HeadlinesMedical News HeadlinesMore>>

  • Washing Lungs & Breathing Better

    Washing Lungs & Breathing Better

    Wednesday, April 16 2014 5:15 PM EDT2014-04-16 21:15:09 GMT
    Imagine not being able to breathe without struggling: every breath you take is work; every breath you take could be your last. That was the case for one man who became dependent on an oxygen tank to stay alive.more>>
    Imagine not being able to breathe without struggling: every breath you take is work; every breath you take could be your last. That was the case for one man who became dependent on an oxygen tank to stay alive.more>>
  • Ocular Melanoma: Saving Lives, Saving Eyes

    Ocular Melanoma: Saving Lives, Saving Eyes

    Friday, April 11 2014 5:15 PM EDT2014-04-11 21:15:07 GMT
    Ocular melanoma, also called uveal melanoma, is a rare type of melanoma that targets the eye. It can be a deadly if it isn't spotted early enough. Now, there's a way to treat patients that's saving lives and saving eyes.more>>
    Ocular melanoma, also called uveal melanoma, is a type of melanoma that targets the eye. It affects about 2,000 people a year in the United States. Although rare – it can be a deadly if it isn't spotted early enough. Now, there's a way to treat patients that's saving lives and saving eyes.more>>
  • Memory Palace: Coping With Chemo Brain

    Memory Palace: Coping With Chemo Brain

    Thursday, April 10 2014 5:15 PM EDT2014-04-10 21:15:09 GMT
    More than 13 million Americans are living with some form of cancer. Harsh treatments like chemo and radiation save lives, but they will also change lives. Now, many cancer survivors are learning how to cope with chemo brain.more>>
    More than 13 million Americans are living with some form of cancer. Harsh treatments like chemo and radiation save lives, but they will also change lives. Now, many cancer survivors are learning how to cope with chemo brain.more>>
  • Pedaling For A Cure

    Pedaling For A Cure

    Wednesday, April 9 2014 5:15 PM EDT2014-04-09 21:15:09 GMT
    Five years ago, Leslie Trudeau's world came crashing down. At just 22 years old, her son Taylor lost his battle with leukemia. That's why Trudeau is pedaling for a cure.more>>
    Five years ago, Leslie Trudeau's world came crashing down. At just 22 years old, her son Taylor lost his battle with leukemia. That's why Trudeau is pedaling for a cure.more>>
  • Bringing Hearts Back To Life: New Improved Defibrillator

    Bringing Hearts Back To Life: New Improved Defibrillator

    Tuesday, April 8 2014 5:15 PM EDT2014-04-08 21:15:13 GMT
    CPR and a portable defibrillator helped keep Eric Robinson alive after he went into cardiac arrest. And now a newly FDA approved Biotronik implantable cardiac defibrillator, or ICD, constantly monitors his heart.more>>
    A year ago, while jamming with his son's band, Eric Robinson went into cardiac arrest. CPR and a portable defibrillator helped keep Robinson alive. And now a newly FDA approved Biotronik implantable cardiac defibrillator, or ICD, constantly monitors his heart.more>>
  • Helping High Risk Hearts

    Helping High Risk Hearts

    Monday, April 7 2014 5:15 PM EDT2014-04-07 21:15:09 GMT
    Ironing is not exactly Barbara Roy's favorite activity, but it's something she's glad she can do again. Her doctor diagnosed her with severe aortic stenosis.more>>
    Ironing is not exactly Barbara Roy's favorite activity, but it's something she's glad she can do again. Her doctor diagnosed her with severe aortic stenosis.more>>
  • Hernias In Newborns: Lincoln's Story

    Hernias In Newborns: Lincoln's Story

    Friday, April 4 2014 5:15 PM EDT2014-04-04 21:15:07 GMT
    Congenital diaphragmatic hernias occur in about one in every 2,000 births. They can be deadly, but now doctors are using a more aggressive treatment approach.more>>
    Congenital diaphragmatic hernias occur in about one in every 2,000 births. They can be deadly, but now doctors are using a more aggressive treatment approach.more>>
  • Predicting Bad Hearts

    Predicting Bad Hearts

    Thursday, April 3 2014 5:15 PM EDT2014-04-03 21:15:09 GMT
    Every year, more than 700,000 Americans have a heart attack. Now, researchers at Baylor Research Institute at Dallas have uncovered a biomarker that may help them spot the disease sooner.more>>
    Every year, more than 700,000 Americans have a heart attack. And 600,000 die of heart disease. Now, researchers at Baylor Research Institute at Dallas have uncovered a biomarker that may help them spot the disease sooner; and they did it by pure accident.more>>
  • Giving Shannon A Voice Of Her Own

    Giving Shannon A Voice Of Her Own

    Wednesday, April 2 2014 5:15 PM EDT2014-04-02 21:15:05 GMT
    More than half a million children under age 15 has a severe communication disorder impairing their ability to speak or communicate with others. Now, advances in technology are giving them a voice—some for the first time.more>>
    More than half a million children under age 15 has a severe communication disorder impairing their ability to speak or communicate with others. Now, advances in technology are giving them a voice—some for the first time.more>>
  • Getting On Your Nerves To Save Your Heart

    Getting On Your Nerves To Save Your Heart

    Tuesday, April 1 2014 5:15 PM EDT2014-04-01 21:15:06 GMT
    Heart failure is the fastest growing cardiovascular disorder in the U.S., affecting more than 6 million people. However, now a new device that gets on your nerves could help save those with heart failure.more>>
    Heart failure is the fastest growing cardiovascular disorder in the U.S., affecting more than 6 million people. It occurs when a person's heart is too weak to pump and circulate blood in the body. However, now a new device that gets on your nerves could help save those with heart failure.more>>
*DISCLAIMER*: The information contained in or provided through this site section is intended for general consumer understanding and education only and is not intended to be and is not a substitute for professional advice. Use of this site section and any information contained on or provided through this site section is at your own risk and any information contained on or provided through this site section is provided on an "as is" basis without any representations or warranties.
Powered by WorldNow
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 NewsChannel 5 (WTVF-TV) and WorldNow. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.