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Good Luck Getting a Childbirth Cost Estimate Out of a Hospital

Childbirth is an incredibly common medical event for which, barring some I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant situation, you have plenty of warning. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be simple estimating your final bill.

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While awaiting the arrival of his own baby, Vox reporter Johnny Harris spent some time trying to get a straightforward quote for what he and his wife should expect to pay out of pocket for a hospital delivery, a process he found frustrating. And then, once he wrangled $347 out of a pricing consultant, the final tally was in fact $841. Not the most onerous unexpected medical bill of all time, but $500 is $500.

It’s not necessarily such an opaque slog for expectant parents; you certainly don’t have to call every hospital in town. Your OB is going to deliver at a particular hospital, and practices do provide a package fee, some amount of which (if you have insurance) your insurer has theoretically already committed to covering, so you can get some sense of your total costs from talking to them. Of course, how pleasant an experience that is depends on your insurer, and of course, your out-of-pocket costs are always subject to change, depending on how labor actually goes—which God knows could go any number of ways.

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The real difficulty would be for uninsured parents trying to do anything like make a budget or shop around, fighting their way through an unfriendly hospital billing system. Harris notes that the cost of delivery can vary wildly from hospital to hospital for mysterious reasons, and the lack of transparency is frustrating. But his faith in the power of hard numbers to inspire lower prices seems a little optimistic in this instance—the bridal industry is a hell of a lot more straightforward than childbirth, with a lot fewer complicating factors and things that could go wrong, and weddings get more expensive every day.

Ultimately the system is byzantine, and the ruinous worst-case potential costs are frightening. Then again, trying to get an estimated bill for labor and delivery is not the part of parenthood that’ll finally send you around the bend.

Senior Editor, Attic Haunter, Jezebel

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Pro-tip for the uninsured/underinsured mamas-to-be: After you open that first envelope with a bill for eleventy kabillion dollars, like I did after my pre-eclampsia stay, my c-section, and our NICU stay, call the hospital’s billing office and request an itemized bill. Then, contest everything on that itemized bill that seems incorrect to you or was treatment that you didn’t actually receive. I cannot emphasize this enough.