Young Utah parents struggle with maternity costs

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BYU graduate Amanda Ritter swaddles her newborn son, Calvin. Ritter said when she was first pregnant, medical costs were a “nightmare,” but after she got onto a Medicaid plan, it was smooth sailing. (Amanda Ritter)

Editor’s note: this story pairs with “Five financial tips for new parents”

When Amanda Ritter donned her navy blue cap and gown for her BYU graduation, she was seven months pregnant.

She and her husband had not planned on having a baby so soon, and when they first discovered she was pregnant, figuring out their finances was a pressing worry.

“It was a nightmare at first, I’ll be honest,” Ritter said. “It was just very confusing, and nobody seemed to know what was going on. I was pregnant and moody, and it was hard.”

Financial troubles of first-time parents

American parents pay more in maternity costs than the rest of the world. The U.S. tops the charts for the average price of a birth, coming in as the most expensive country for both vaginal and cesarean deliveries, according to a 2015 report from the International Federation of Health Plans.

The second most expensive country according to the report, Switzerland, averages more than $3,000 less than the U.S.

Though Utah’s average medical maternity costs fall under the national average, the costs that accompany pregnancy and birth can cause significant stress and trouble for young couples.

Ritter had her son Calvin shortly after graduating from BYU in April 2017. She was still on her parent’s health insurance when she became pregnant. She soon found out she was not covered for maternal medical costs and scrambled to quickly find a new insurance provider. After consulting with other young parents, she and her husband decided to apply to Medicaid.

Ritter said they had a “really hard time applying” and ended up having to pay out-of-pocket for medical expenses during her first three months of pregnancy before finally getting covered by Medicaid.

Luckily, once they got on the insurance plan, Ritter said their financial struggles took a turn for the better.

“Medicaid covered everything. It was a huge blessing,” Ritter said. “I would say if you’re low income, check out Medicaid for sure.”

Laura Bangerter, a freelance technical writer from Payson, said she experienced financial stress all through her pregnancy and well beyond.

“The most horrendous part, if you ask me, is that bills come from all over the place up to four months after the baby is born: the lab, the doctor, the hospital, a different lab,” Bangerter said.

Bangerter said though she had a great overall experience with having her son, Collin, at Mountain View Hospital in Payson, Utah, a large part of her financial stress came from the confusing hospital billing process.

“There is little communication about the whole billing process to a new mom, so while the doctor’s office told me early on a cost, they didn’t tell me that I’d also get huge bills from these other places,” Bangerter said.

U.S. statistics vs. Utah statistics

Utah has the highest rate of births and some of the lowest rates of birthing costs, according to Utah’s Public Health Indicator Based Information System and Time.com. (McKenna Park)

Utah’s yearly birth rates are significantly higher than the national average. According to the most recent data in Utah’s Public Health Indicator Based Information System, Utahns had 16.5 live births per 1,000 population in 2016. The U.S. average is 12.2 live births per 1,000 population.

Though the U.S. averages for maternity costs are exceptionally high, Utah’s average birth costs fare well in comparison to other states. Utah ranks second in the nation for least expensive vaginal births at an average of $5,357 and sixth in the nation for least expensive cesarean births at an average of $8,226, according to a report by non-profit FAIR Health published by Time.com.

The report shows Alaska averaging the highest costs for both vaginal birth at $10,413 and cesarean births at $14,528 — nearly double the cost of Utah’s averages.

Utah hospitals vary slightly for their average costs of deliveries, according to data made available by UtahHealthScape. See the map below for individual average costs of vaginal and cesarean deliveries for hospitals in Utah Valley:

Insurance advice from a doctor

Dr. Randall Pace, a family physician credentialed to deliver babies at Utah Valley Hospital, Orem Community Hospital and Timpanogos Regional Hospital, works on call with his obstetrical patients and delivers a baby about once a week.

Pace said he would advise expecting parents to be aware of common pitfalls brought on by health insurance companies.

“There are all these commercials where (insurance providers) show they care, but they’re weasels,” Pace said. “They do everything they can to decrease their costs, which includes confusing the patients.”

Pace said one example of these insurance pitfalls is the window of time to add a baby to the insurance policy after they are born.

“(Insurances) won’t really emphasize the short window of time to get the baby added to the insurance, and then before you know it, ‘Oh no, the time has passed,’ and you can’t add your baby to the insurance, and you’ll be stuck with a big hospital bill,” Pace said. “It makes me sad because I feel like the insurance companies deliberately make it confusing and difficult to add the child so that they don’t have to pay for that part.”

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