Baby, That Bill Is High: Private Equity ‘Gambit’ Squeezes Excessive ER Charges From Routine Births

by | Oct 13, 2022 | Health

Elizabeth Huffner thinks it is obvious: A full-term, healthy pregnancy results in a birth.

“When your due date has come and gone, you’re expecting a baby any minute,” Huffner said. So she was surprised to discover she was an “unknown accident” — at least from a billing standpoint — when she went to the hospital during labor. Her bill included a charge for something she said she didn’t know she’d ever entered: an obstetrics emergency department.

That’s where a doctor briefly checked her cervix, timed her contractions, and monitored the fetal heartbeat before telling her to go home and come back later. The area is separated from the rest of the labor-and-delivery department by a curtain. The hospital got about $1,300 for that visit — $530 of it from Huffner’s pocket.

In recent years, hospitals of every stripe have opened obstetrics emergency departments, or OBEDs. They come with a requirement that patients with pregnancy or postpartum medical concerns be seen quickly by a qualified provider, which can be important in a real emergency. But it also means healthy patients like Huffner get bills for emergency care they didn’t know they got.

“It should be a cautionary tale to every woman,” said Huffner, of Rockford, Illinois.

Three of the four major companies that set up and staff OBEDs are a …

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