By Bob Greene
Seventy dollars. Gary Bender had difficulty believing what was right before his eyes. Bender, an accountant who lives in Irvine, California, was looking at a hospital bill he had found while going through the possessions of his late mother, Sylvia.
“I’m kind of the family historian,” he told me. “I keep things.” What he was looking at was the bill for his own birth, in 1947. The bill had been mailed to his parents after they, and he, had left Grant Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, in May of that year.
The grand total for his mother’s six-day stay at Grant, for the use of the operating room, for his days in the nursery, for the various medicines and lab work — for all aspects of his birth — was $70. “It made me think, ‘How did we get from that, to where we are today?'” Bender said.
He was referring to the soaring costs of health care in the United States. For all the discussion of how out of hand the price of medical treatment has become, somehow that one old piece of paper put the subject in sharper focus for Bender than all the millions of words in news accounts analyzing the topic.
“It can’t just be inflation, can it?” he asked. No, it can’t. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, $70 in 1947 would be equivalent to $726 in 2012 dollars. Does it cost $726 for a hospital stay to deliver a baby these days?
According to a 2011 report from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the cost for a hospital stay, including physician fees, for a conventional birth with no complications was a little over $11,000 in 2008, the most recent year the report covered. For a birth involving a Caesarean section, the cost was around $19,000.