Preemies and Health Care Costs

The most recent episode or Radiolab is about how two parents, Kelley Benham and Tom French, faced the difficult question of what they were going to do when they learned that their daughter was going to be born at 23 weeks and 6 days—roughly half term. Benham wrote her incredible story in December for the Tampa Bay Times, which was published in three parts.

The Radiolab story doesn’t really go into the financial details, but Benham did address it in her series:

It appeared that the neonatologist cost about $1,900 a day. A month in the NICU — presumably room, board and nursing care — was billed at between $200,000 and $450,000. Then there were the costs for surgeries, lab work and specialists. All together, Juniper’s care cost more than $6,000 a day. The statements would add up to $2.4 million, of which the hospital collected from the insurance company a negotiated rate of $1.2 million.

Benham wrote about how she understood what the costs of caring for her daughter could be. She understood that these medical costs have caused people in similar situations to lose their homes, their careers and their marriages. Thanks to Tom’s job at Indiana University where his health care plan had no deductible or lifetime cap, the cost to the family would be just $400—the copay for their baby’s hospitalization.

There’s a lot to unpack there regarding the costs of health care, the range of health care plans available to Americans, and the amount of money that can be dedicated to a single life when so many others go without adequate care. The latter point was brought up by one of Benham’s friends:

One day, a friend asked me a difficult question, trusting that I knew she meant no harm.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” she said, “but wouldn’t it be better to vaccinate a million kids in Africa?”

Benham’s response: “Better for who?”

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