Reducing the cost of pregnancy and birth

Being pregnant can be an expensive affair. Angelique Ruzicka talks to the experts in the medical scheme industry to find out how you can reduce the costs and get charged a fair rate.

The initial joy you experience at the news that you are pregnant can swiftly subside once all the medical bills associated with your pregnancy come flooding into your post box. Whether you consult a gynae, midwife or GP – their bills can all add up and create a huge hole in your finances.

If you try to find out in advance how much it will cost to deliver your baby in a private facility in South Africa, you could be in for a shock, particularly if you don’t belong to a medical scheme. “It’s roughly R25, 000 for a caesarean and between R15, 000 to R16, 000 for natural births on the private side. This is purely the hospital cost and does not include doctor’s consultations,” says Peter Jordan, principal officer of Fedhealth.

But there are ways to reduce the cost of your medical bills during your pregnancy. As always, Moneybags has done the legwork and come up with plenty of advice on how to reduce your costs during pregnancy and when you give birth.

(Remember, every pregnancy is different and these tips are only a guide designed to help you reduce costs. If you need to consult a specialist or attend a certain facility for health reasons then do so, regardless of the costs. This advice should only be followed if you are having an uncomplicated pregnancy and if your practitioner deems it safe to do so).

Consider the costs and other implications of a caesarean

There are plenty of advantages to having a caesarean. They are quick, safer in some instances than giving birth naturally and convenient as you can often choose when to go for the procedure. However, if you are having an uncomplicated pregnancy and want to save money you should consider giving birth naturally as this is often cheaper than giving birth via c-section.

Heidi Kruger, head of corporate communications at the Board of Healthcare Funders points out that there could be a lot of other costs associated with a c-section that you would not incur if you had a natural birth.  “For example, when the baby comes through the birth canal all the stuff in its lungs gets squeezed out. This doesn’t happen in a c-section. As a result these babies often have to be put on a ventilator or in high care.”

You don’t have to give birth in a hospital

“Where you choose to give birth can also save you money. If you have a home birth you save on hospital costs. Specialist clinics are also cheaper and if you give birth at a government hospital we usually pay for the birth in full,” says Mark Arnold principal officer of Resolution Health Medical Scheme.

Don’t book a private room

If you choose to go to a private hospital you can still save money by booking yourself into a semi or general ward. “Private wards can be really expensive so if you can survive in a semi-private ward you can save yourself some money. If you can cope in a general ward with a curtain around you, you can save even more,” says Jordan.

Don’t have unnecessary scans

You should negotiate with your gynae on your level of treatment. “Many gynaes do an ultra sound with every visit but the reality is that there are key times when gynaes need to check things and produce a scan but it’s not necessary to do a scan every time. Three dimensional scans are also a lifestyle choice and not a requirement. It’s a ‘nice to have’,” says Arnold.

Find out if your medical aid has a network

Nowadays most medical schemes have designated service providers or a ‘network’ of practitioners that they have an arrangement with whereby costs are fixed, usually at or just above medical aid rates. Find out from your chosen practitioner if they belong to your medical aid’s network. If not, you should consider going to a specialist that belongs to your medical aid’s network as this could reduce your costs quite substantially. “Many people just find out at the pre-authorisation stage that their doctor is not part of a network and that they are liable for a large co-payment. The vast majority of gynaes that subscribe to the networks are highly qualified and the degrees of difference with doctors that charge more are very small,” points out Arnold.

Join your scheme’s baby programme

Find out if your medical scheme has a baby programme you can join. “Fedhealth has a free baby programme. These really do help you to save. It may be a small cost but when you start having kids every saving helps,” says Jordan.

Consider reducing the number of experts you consult

Birthing assistants, also known as doulas, are used in only a small percentage of deliveries according to some reports but the trend of hiring them is growing. In South Africa, a doula’s rates can vary but experienced ones can charge several thousands of rands for their services. There are plenty of benefits associated with hiring a doula and they can provide plenty of support. However, if you can do without a doula you could again reduce your costs substantially. “A doula is a ‘nice to have’. It’s not absolutely necessary and medical aids don’t cover it,” points out Kruger.

Moneybags’ verdict

You can’t put a price on good health. So if you need to see a certain specialist or attend a particular facility you may be left with little choice but to spend the money. The good news is that following doctor’s orders and being healthy can save you money in the long run. “It does come down to being educated about your own pregnancy. Take the requisite vitamins and minerals and check your blood pressure. If a complication arises don’t leave it too late to get checked out,” adds Kruger.

However, if you are able to consult whoever you wish and if you are keen on saving money there are things you can do to reduce the costs. You don’t, for example, have to follow every celebrity fad out there or opt for a caesarean because you feel you are ‘too posh to push’. “All these add-ons have become the norm, they’ve really become like that one carat diamond ring on your finger. But don’t do anything reckless just to save money as you could also cause more harm. Sometimes you just have to pay and bite the bullet,” says Jordan.