Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine who shared her struggles with medical debt following the birth of her daughter. Even though she had insurance, her bills tallied up to over TEN GRAND. I recognize that this is an issue in the U.S. and not Canada or the EU, but considering that about four million babies are born every year in America, it’s relevant. Right?
Leaving politics aside, I’d like to address this as a human issue - how does it impact moms, how does it impact babies? My primary interest isn’t in finding a policy-based solution. It’s in unpacking exactly how damning this reality is for the state of our nation.
A few years after she got married, Barb got pregnant and was overjoyed to be welcoming a baby girl to her family. At around 20 weeks, she started experiencing some troubling symptoms. I visited her and saw how much she was struggling with severe swelling in her legs, feet, and hands. When she told me that her blood pressure was a little high, I got very concerned. Pre-eclampsia can be fatal if left untreated - and she had a lot of the warning signs. The OB that her insurance dictate she use was adamant that Barb come in to the office twice a week for non-stress tests. But for some reason, one of those weekly appointments was at the hospital Maternal Fetal Medicine. When the hospital staff noticed her blood pressure, they sent her to the Emergency Department for monitoring. Every visit was another thousand dollars (or more)! In the end, she was diagnosed with maternal hypertension (which is like pre-pre-eclampsia).
Barb’s bills began to stack up, which didn’t help her blood pressure. Eventually she had to stop working for her health and the health of the baby. She was induced a few weeks early because her symptoms were worsening rapidly and waiting for spontaneous labor was not safe. She was lucky enough to bear through the pain of induced labor without an epidural and avoided a c-section (which could have been $30k on its own). Re-read that sentence. My dear friend endured the pain of childbirth with no pain-relief drugs - not just because she wanted to have a birth without intervention - but because she desperately wanted to avoid even more medical debt. Let that sink in.
Months after her daughter was born, Barb tried to reach the hospital’s financial aid department. They wouldn’t return her calls or accept walk-in appointments, so she was stuck. When they finally returned her call weeks later, they explained that their company policy recently changed. Now, they only give discounts to people when a single procedure costs more than $1,500. Since each doctor billed individually, none of her bills had a high enough total to warrant the discount - even though her total debt to the hospital was over $10k. Her daughter is almost crawling now, and Barb is still struggling to get an answer from the hospital on whether or not they’ll discount her bills (and by how much).
Again - I’m not going to talk about the politics here. This is strictly about how the insane cost of prenatal care and childbirth impacts moms. Low-income families often don’t have many choices when it comes to medical care. Even if they can afford to see the doctor, that doctor might not give them the best possible care. If they can’t balance the bills, they’ll get buried in medical debt that can choke out their dreams and financial goals. Financial stress is the most common contributor to divorce - which is a monetary nightmare in and of itself. Even if all other areas of their life have no stress, finances can wreck a person’s mental health. If moms are anxious about debt collectors calling them, they can’t be on their peak mom-game. Kids suffer when their parents have to choose between bills and diapers. And if I have to explain why that’s unacceptable, then you’re part of the problem, pal.
*Barb isn’t her real name, but it is the name of that chick that disappeared in Stranger Things, so….
How have you thought about resolving our healthcare crisis in America? Was your hospital bill after delivery small, or was it extensive? Have you been able to get financial assistance with medical bills? Tell me how to navigate this mindfield so I can help my friend! She’s not on Twitter, but I am - @pi3sugarpi3.
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