Welcoming a child into the world can be one of the most rewarding experiences a parent can have. However, one less-than-exciting aspect of becoming a new parent is the mountain of medical debt that accrues during and after pregnancy. While it can feel like an insurmountable level of debt to many new families, there are rights that you have and steps that you can take to alleviate and prevent crippling debt.
The Hidden Costs of Pregnancy
Over the course of a pregnancy, the mother’s body, as well as the new baby’s body, go through incredible amounts of change. As each trimester provides unique changes, it also serves up a host of different medical costs.
- Expected expenses from the first trimester include prenatal vitamins, various screens for common birth defects, and early ultrasounds.
- The second trimester will bring costs through amniocentesis (testing for birth defects), glucose screening that can detect gestational diabetes, and further ultrasounds that can reveal the sex of the baby.
- In the third trimester, aside from regular checkups or participation in birthing classes, the largest expense will come from the actual labor and delivery, the cost of which can skyrocket if there are any complications during birth.
While prenatal testing for possible birth defects is standard for the majority of pregnancies, there are various tests that can be done that some insurance companies do not consider medically necessary. Noninvasive prenatal testing is one such procedure which, even if covered by insurance, can cost expecting mothers hundreds of dollars. Noninvasive prenatal testing can cost up to $5,000 —a sizeable sum by anyone’s standards, but especially hard to manage for moms-to-be who are already struggling financially.
How Medical Debt Affects You
The good news is that currently, all health insurance marketplace and Medicaid plans cover pregnancy and childbirth to some extent. Having a baby also qualifies for a special enrollment period, so changing insurance soon after giving birth is a possibility. If you are the beneficiary of a grandfathered individual health plan, be aware that many of these plans are not required to cover either pregnancy or childbirth.
There is a persistent myth surrounding medical debt stating that it does not affect your credit score negatively. This is only half true; while most hospitals and doctors do not report to the bureaus, if payments fall into delinquency and the debt is then sent to a collection agency, it can drop your score up to 200 points. However, even if you do find yourself deep in debt due to the costs associated with pregnancy and childbirth, there are resources to assist you with your finances.
Debt settlement is a viable option for medical debts incurred during pregnancy, though it is essential that you do your homework before you contact a debt settlement company. While it is well within your power to try and negotiate your debt down on your own, debt settlement companies are usually able to strike a deal that reduces the debt considerably for a flat rate. However, not all debt settlement companies are created equal, and some might actually cause you to go deeper into financial troubles. It is also worth noting that debt settlement has an adverse effect on credit scores and that you are still liable for taxes on the forgiven debt.
What to Do About Work
One step that any expectant mother can take in order to prevent financial troubles post-pregnancy is to take out a short-term disability insurance policy. This type of insurance policy works as a sort of safety net if you are unable to return to work or find yourself out of work for a short amount of time after having your baby. Many employers will help pay for the policy, with some even paying the premium entirely.
- It is generally a better idea to work with employers when obtaining a short-term disability insurance policy, as the benefits might not outweigh the costs of the monthly premiums if you’ve taken one out on your own.
- It is also important to discuss all the factors surrounding such an insurance policy with HR before you are pregnant, as they typically need to be enacted before you become a pregnant employee.
Ideally, you’ll find yourself working for a company that provides a decent amount of paid maternity leave, allowing you ample time with your new baby without fear of falling further into debt. Unfortunately, this situation is exceptionally rare in the U.S., and you might even find yourself threatened with termination from your position upon notifying your boss of your pregnancy or shortly after giving birth. Know that this is illegal as it falls under discrimination protection laws. You’ll have legal recourse if that does occur.
Medical debt is no joke and can be a serious issue for many, especially new mothers who are generally unable to immediately return to work to start generating income. Hidden costs on top of the already formidable costs of pregnancy and childbirth can rack up medical debt. While most insurance covers pregnancy and childbirth, the debts can still grow quickly. Just know that there are ways to deal with medical debt if it happens to you.
Author Info: Noah Rue is a writer, a digital nomad, and a graduate of the lessons of life (primary) and also the University of Idaho. These days, Noah teaches English as a second language in lovely Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and moonlights as a content strategist for an American based marketing company.