New parents take home more than their bundle of joy. Some get surprise medical bills

July 22, 2021

Pregnant women spend on average $4,500 out of pocket on maternity care including blood tests, glucose screenings and ultrasounds. That doesn’t include what some also take home with their bundle of joy: surprise medical bills. 

Nearly 19 percent of families received one or more surprise bills for delivery, newborn hospitalization or both, according to JAMA Health Forum. The average bill was $744, but for some, the bill was more than $2,000. 

Surprise or “balance” bills often happen when patients go to a hospital or clinic, they think is in their insurance network but are seen by a doctor or specialist who isn’t. The patient is then on the hook for an often very high bill – sometimes exceeding thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. 

“The high frequency of out-of-network care in our study, coupled with the fact that childbirth is the most common reason for hospitalization, suggests that childbirth hospitalizations are currently one of the most frequent sources of surprise bills in the US,” said lead author Dr. Kao-Ping Chua, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan. 

In December, former President Donald Trump signed the No Surprises Act into law. This summer, the Biden administration announced a new rule that’s the first step in implementing the No Surprises Act. It limits bills to in-network charges in cases where people are forced to use an out-of-network provider. It takes effect in January 2022. 

In the meantime, people can take steps to protect themselves. If you’re able to schedule your medical care, make sure any provider who is part of your treatment is in your network. Make sure the location you’re going to is also in your network. You can always double check with your provider or your insurance company if you’re unsure. 

Voices for Affordable Health took a deep dive into surprise billing, talking with consumers and policymakers. Check out our report

Were you surprised by your bill after childbirth? Share your story with Voices for Affordable Health.