The unusually high cost of stillbirths is devastating to grieving families
With improvements to modern medicine, we are seeing a decrease in stillbirths. That's because in medical settings, maternal patients who are considered high-risk are thoroughly monitored and intervention methods are often administered. Stillbirths can, however, occur when errors are made or when complications that should be identified are missed.
One maternal patient recounts the devastating loss of her unborn child upon discovering the baby lacked a heartbeat. After giving birth to the stillborn baby hours later, doctors asked her several times throughout the night if she wanted an autopsy and genetic test performed. The prospect of such a procedure raised one concern, which nobody seems to know the answer to: the cost. The catch is, it is strongly recommended that maternal patients who wish to give birth again in the future have these tests done.
What is the actual cost of a stillbirth?
According to an article in Vox, stillbirths are deaths of unborn babies that occur after 20-weeks gestation and impact nearly one percent of all deliveries. The economic burden of stillbirths, however, are rarely acknowledged. According to a 2013 study by researchers at the University of Michigan, the average cost of a stillbirth delivery exceeds $750, which is more than the average cost of a live birth. Other than this study, little research has been done on this topic.
For an already-grieving family, the cost can be devastating. Currently, the cost of a live birth in the US is roughly $10,808 before insurance. In this case, the patient paid total out-of-pocket expenses of $1,600 for pre-insurance charges of $16,256. The delivery alone - which took less than 20 minutes - cost the patient $4,696 before insurance. In addition, the cost of blood tests to determine the cause of death amounted to $2,630. The patient was able to leave the hospital within 24 hours, sparing her and her husband additional medical expenses.
Some maternal patients who have lost their unborn babies aren't as fortunate. The unusually high costs associated with stillbirth can include longer hospital stays due to diabetes, hypertension, and other complications that can arise from giving birth. On top of that, the cost of addressing mental health complications, postpartum depression, as well as funeral and burial expenses can be financially devastating.
What can be done to cover the costs?
Upon departing the hospital, the patient and her husband were stuck with a very tough choice: how would they afford to bury their stillborn baby? Unlike medical expenses, funeral and burial costs are more immediate and emotionally taxing. The cost of funeral services, cemetery plots, and a casket could range in the thousands. Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely life insurance will cover these costs. Under the current terms of most life insurance policies, only children between 14 days and 18 years old can be covered.
The only free option the patient and her husband had was to have their stillborn baby buried in an unmarked "field of angels," which is a mass grave of stillborn babies within the vicinity of the hospital. Stillborn babies buried there are only identified by a single plaque.
Luckily, the husband's family owned some mausoleum space in a historic cemetery in New Orleans where their stillborn baby could be buried with family. In addition, the patient and her husband received a $500 gift from Savannah Smiles, an organization that helps families with funeral and burial expenses after a stillbirth.
Another patient who lost her twins nine days after birth discussed how she turned to GoFundMe to help cover these costs.
“The money collected allowed us to pay for her obituary in the paper, her burial plot, casket spray, photo canvases for ceremony, and the funeral itself," she said. "Any money left after that point was used towards medical bills from her NICU stay.”
Was negligence involved?
There are several factors that can lead to a stillbirth, many of which are preventable. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the most common causes of stillbirth include:
- Complications with the placenta: Some issues within the placenta can cause lack of oxygen and nutrients that can lead to fetal death in the womb. This is commonly known as placental abruption. Preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension) is cited as a leading cause of placental abruption.
- Birth defects: Genetics and environmental factors can lead to chromosomal disorders or structural malformations that can lead to death.
- Restricted growth: If a baby isn't growing at a normal rate, asphyxia or lack of oxygen can lead to death before or during birth.
- Bacterial infections: Babies who are infected between 24-27 weeks of gestation are at risk of dying in the womb. In many cases, these infections don't produce any noticeable symptoms and are only discovered when serious complications arise.
- Other causes: Complications with the umbilical cord, trauma, pregnancy-related diabetes or hypertension, and postdate pregnancy can lead to stillbirths.
If you have lost an unborn child because your doctor or other medical professionals failed to identify a potential risk factor and provide adequate care, it's crucial that you speak to an experienced Atlanta birth injury lawyer as soon as possible.
The knowledgeable and compassionate legal team at Tyrone Law Firm, PC will fight to maximize your compensation so you don't have to pay out of your own pocket. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation free of charge.