A Recent Study Sought to Understand Surprise Medical Bills

In health and wellness journal Health Affairs this week, researchers published a study chronicling the effects of surprise medical bills on a woman’s decisions to have a second child. The reason for choosing childbirth? Researchers decided it was one of the few elective procedures anyone would want to repeat.

After deciding to focus on childbirth, researchers took a nationwide sample of women who delivered their first child and sought coverage using employer-sponsored health insurance. They chose women who delivered their first child between 2007 and 2014. While most women in the study chose providers and hospitals that were within their network, some members of the delivery team, like anesthesiologists, were out-of-network. In this case, insurance companies expected families to pay the rest of the bill out-of-pocket.


Researchers found that women who got a surprise out-of-pocket bill switched hospitals for their second child 13% of the time. Of the women who went to other hospitals, 56% didn’t receive another surprise bill. Even if they didn’t switch hospitals, many of the women used their surprise bill as an opportunity to make more cost-effective choices for their next child.

What did this study teach researchers? Authors of the study found that there was an increased need for transparency as it related to hospital prices. However, researchers found that sometimes, in more rural areas with fewer options, women sometimes would go to out-of-pocket hospitals that were closer to home. Researchers found that women made their decision on a “bundle of attributes” rather than solely on cost. The authors also recommended that lawmakers consider this and pass a bill preventing consumers from being responsible for certain out-of-pocket costs in otherwise in-network areas.

Have a similar story about out-of-pocket medical costs? Want to learn more about the study? Leave your thoughts below!

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