The staggering price of birth in America

Expecting parents preparing for the arrival of a new baby may be shocked to learn that giving birth comes with a staggering price tag ranging from $20,000 to $100,000. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
A baby just learning to walk gets a hand from her mother, on September 18, 2013 in Hingham, Massachusetts.

Brace yourself for a couple of big numbers: $21,000 or $105,000. The former is the average cost of having a baby; the latter, the cost of having twins. (Or, if you'd prefer to look at it a different way, the former is the cost of a decent new car, and the latter is the cost of a small house in a loose real estate market.)

The boom in assisted reproductive technologies (like in vitro fertilization) makes the twins price tag increasingly relevant. As a CBS news story notes,

... With single births, 60 percent of medical expenses are tied to mom's care whereas with twins or multiple births, 70 percent to 85 percent of costs are for infant care respectively.

These numbers come from a study published Nov. 11 in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, and while they shouldn't be shocking to anyone who has followed the bloat of American healthcare, they're a particularly poignant reminder of how much the modern system costs society in general, and parents in particular.

Separate from (but certainly related to) baby birthing cost is the amount of money parents actually end up paying out of pocket once the "cost" side is figured out. The New York Times published a heartbreaking story on the seemingly random, occasionally crushing price of having a baby, wherein the potential swing in expense is, for lack of a more accurate word, ludicrous:

When she became pregnant, [Renée] Martin called her local hospital inquiring about the price of maternity care; the finance office at first said it did not know, and then gave her a range of $4,000 to $45,000. “It was unreal,” Ms. Martin said. “I was like, How could you not know this? You’re a hospital.”

Here in Minneapolis, my wife and I had a perfectly normal, healthy, happy pregnancy and by-the-book birth followed by a cascading series of complicated bills that mounted up into the high four figures. Other friends have paid similar amounts, or half, or around $1,000. Insurance is part of the story, but the whole story is opaque, hidden behind deductibles and consulting groups and "we-didn't-know-that-was-optional" services that render the whole process about as understandable as a wooden tablet written in Rongorongo.

And of course the "birth" thing is just a drop in a much, much wider and deeper bucket. If you can stomach the read, the Monitor wrote about how the average cost of $241,000 to raise a child "sounds low." Maybe it's about time that parents, for their own sanity, started putting a monetary value on milestones like a first step or a first good report card. If an "I love you, Daddy" is worth $15,000, it helps defray the expenses. A bit.

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