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The True Cost of Giving Birth in NYC

New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world. The rent is high, you have a ton of bills, and a hamburger costs $20. In a city where a trip to RiteAid can turn into a $250 bar hop, it’s no wonder healthcare is expensive. “Well, that’s what insurance is for, Russell.” Very true. However, insurance is not always the same. Different plans cover different things, certain hospitals might be out of your network, and sometimes your deductible is insane. For those without insurance, the nightmare is even worse, especially when a hospital is your best option. Speaking of, let’s talk about how expensive it is to give birth in NYC.

It’s very likely that New York City is the most expensive place on Earth to have a baby. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Again, some restaurants here charge $20 for a burger that’s well-done even though you asked for medium-rare. But just how expensive is it? The answer is: that there are a lot of answers. A study from 2017 found that prices for birth vary widely depending on which borough you’re in. Between Brooklyn and The Bronx, there was a median difference of 30%. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but mostly it’s because some hospitals just sort of feel like charging more. “Wait, doesn’t more expensive healthcare mean better healthcare?” No.

“Well, that’s fine then. If I have to give birth, I’ll just leave Manhattan and give birth in Brooklyn. I just beat the system!” No, you didn’t because hospital prices vary widely in boroughs too, even amongst hospitals that support multiple locations like New York-Presbyterian. Granted a lot of these price differences are based on what your insurance will or won’t cover. However, a lot of it is just what that specific hospital normally charges. There’s no uniformity amongst New York City hospitals in terms of pricing.

“Okay. This is still okay. I still have insurance. Even if I do end up paying more, they’ll still cover most of the cost.” Ideally, yes! However, some insurance companies will make you jump through hoops to get covered, but people who just gave birth often don’t feel like jumping regardless of whether hoops are involved. And that’s when you go to a doctor who’s in your network. If you go to an out of network doctor or hospital, you could be on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars.

“Well at least it can’t get any worse.” Oh but it can! So far, I’ve only been talking about vaginal births. If you need a cesarean delivery, that’s a whole new insurance nightmare and usually a higher price. In Manhattan, the median price for a vaginal birth in 2017 was $16,365 while the median price for a cesarean birth was $21,706. This makes sense, in theory. Surgery typically costs more than non-invasive procedures. The issue is that, once again, every borough and hospital charges vastly different amounts.

After enduring so much pain, these issues can be a nightmare for new parents. On a personal note, a friend of mine gave birth a few years ago. The experience was awful, largely due to the insurance company trying to wiggle out of paying for her delivery. Had she lost that fight with insurance companies, she would’ve had to pay over $32,000. There are countless people like her with similar stories, and even more with stories that are worse. Giving birth is hard, and dealing with the financial side of things, which often seems intentionally confusing, only makes it harder.

“So…is there an average price for giving birth in New York City?” The sad answer is no, not really. It largely depends on where you go. A very abridged answer would be anywhere from ~$1000 to ~$30,000 for a vaginal birth with no complications. For cesarean births with no complications the very abridged answer is ~$2,000 to ~$50,000. For more complex, not very abridged answers, check out this study from the New York State Health Foundation. Insurance can help keep these costs down. However, for many residents of the city, these costs are inevitable.

“Is there a way we can make giving birth cheaper in New York City?” I’m glad you asked! Remember the hyperlink from above? This one specifically? Well this study has a couple of ways giving birth can be less expensive, and not just in NYC. First and foremost, hospitals need to have price transparency on how much giving birth will cost. A bill was recently passed that attempted to force hospitals to make prices transparent up front, but most haven’t complied. Without accountability, things will only remain the same.

Additionally, a price cap on birth would save parents hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. The NYS Health Foundation study suggests that capping costs at even the 75% percentile could be a huge game changer for families. Now, in our personal opinion, something else that could solve the problem is not making people pay to give birth at all. It’s a bold strategy that’s only been tried by dozens of other countries on Earth. That said, we think we could find a way to work it out.

New York City is one of the most expensive cities on Earth. Even the hospitals here charge a huge amount for the things they do. Don’t even get me started on how expensive ambulances are. However, we can change things for the better. We just need to encourage transparency, price capping, and put quality care of individuals before profits. Frankly, the US has fallen behind when it comes to health care. If we want to catch up, we need to act like it. Too many people are drowning in debt simply for creating life. We need to create a society that makes giving birth safe and cheap, so that the only thing we have to complain about are $20 hamburgers.

Russell is a writer and comic based in New York City. His plays have been featured at Penn State’s Cultural Conversation’s Festival, The NYC Thespis Festival, and Imaginarium’s Inaugural Theater Festival. Follow him on TikTok and Instagram @pooleparty528