Medical debt among new mothers

The high medical costs associated with pregnancy and childbirth can lead to significant financial burdens for new mothers. While 4 in 10 births are covered by Medicaid, which has minimal cost-sharing, about half of births are covered by private insurance, which can have significant cost-sharing.

An earlier KFF analysis of claims data from private health plans found that childbirth is associated with an average of nearly $3,000 in additional out-of-pocket spending for new mothers, above that of similarly aged women who did not recently give birth. Roughly one third of multi-person households and half of single-person households would not have the liquid assets  needed to cover typical out-of-pocket costs associated with pregnancy and childbirth in private health plans.

KFF’s recent survey of people experiencing health care debt found that parents generally are significantly more likely than non-parents to report having health care debt from their own or someone else’s medical or dental bills.

The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) asks whether respondents have medical debt they have incurred for their own care. Using this data, this analysis looks at the share of new mothers who have significant medical debt (in excess of $250), compared to other young women who did not recently give birth.

New mothers are twice as likely to have medical debt as young women who did not recently give birth

Among women ages 18-35, 14.3% of those who gave birth in the last year and a half have medical debt in excess of $250, compared to 7.6% of women in the same age group who did not have a child recently. This comparison group (7.6%) includes some women who have older children, so there could still be residual debt from an earlier birth.

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Similarly, 11.0% of women ages 18-35 who had a child within the last year and a half have at least $1,000 in medical debt, compared to 4.8% of young women who have not recently had a child.

The debt reported here is only for the mother and does not include any medical debt they may have incurred for the care of their children. Medical care for infants could result in even more out-of-pocket costs and higher rates of medical debt.

The out-of-pocket medical costs associated with pregnancy and childbirth, particularly for new parents with private insurance, come at a time when many families are taking on other new expenses to care for a child. Many new parents also experience income loss if their employer is among the 75% that do not offer paid parental leave.

Medical debt is associated with a number of other indicators of financial vulnerability, including carrying credit card balances, incurring late payment and over-limit credit card fees, and relying on cash advances. People with medical debt are also more likely to miss or delay needed medical care due to costs.



The Peterson Center on Healthcare and KFF are partnering to monitor how well the U.S. healthcare system is performing in terms of quality and cost.

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