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Is private or public hospital better if pregnant?

·4-min read
A mother holds her child for the first time after giving birth.
Many women have indicated they prefer the public system for giving birth. Here's why. (Source: Getty)

If you’re trying to get pregnant, the advice for anyone wanting to give birth in a private hospital is to check your health insurance and make sure “obstetrics'' is covered. But do this either one year before birth or as far in advance as one year before getting pregnant.

But don’t miss the fact that even if you pay (steep) private health insurance premiums, you’ll end up out of pocket more than someone who chooses to give birth in a public hospital.

More from Nicole Pederson-McKinnon:

New research by finder.com.au shows that 64 percent of privately insured parents faced out-of-pocket costs for their most recent birth.

The Finder Parenting Report 2021, which surveyed more than 1,000 parents with children under 12, found that while one-in-four paid less than $1,000 in additional costs, a further 27 per cent paid between $1,000 and $5,000.

That’s hardly the point of private medical insurance.

For one-in-seven parents (14 per cent), the cost of childbirth has exceeded $5,000. And for 2 per cent, it’s hit as high as $15,000 or even more.

Having said that, through the public system you could pay up to $2,000 anyway, depending on personal circumstances. However, more often, it will be entirely free.

Equally, Finder’s survey found just over one-third of parents with private medical cover faced no out-of-pocket expenses for their private hospital birth.

A chart representing the average cost of giving birth for different people.
Source: Finder Parenting Report 2021 of 1,033 parents of children under the age of 12

So public or private?

When it comes to childbirth, this really is about the experience you want.

Do you want a private room? Do you want to stay in the hospital a little longer? Some private cover also extends to putting patient overflows into fancy hotels after a couple of days, to see out the rest of your admission there.

As always with private cover, you also get a choice of doctor and more certainty that you will actually get that doctor.

It is possible you could also be given more flexibility with your chosen birth plan.

James Martin, Finder health insurance expert, says: “Private care is pricier but it certainly has its benefits. Many parents value having a predictability of care every time they visit the hospital, while others want to have a private room after birth and a longer stay in the hospital if needed.”

But it can be challenging to predict exactly what the cost of your birth will be ahead of time.

“If you have specialist care needs after a complicated birth, this can lead to more costs if you continue to use private services. For example, you could face more out-of-pocket costs if you need more paediatric appointments,” Martin says.

And that speaks to another point: if you want private cover for your family, make sure you put your baby on your health insurance in plenty of time too, in case he or she requires medical help on entrance into the world.

But most people choose to do neither.

What do most people choose?

Finders’ parenting report reveals two-in-three parents (69 per cent) gave birth through the public health care system.

More than half, in fact 59 per cent, of parents would use the public system if they were to have another child.

Now that’s an interesting stat given that the question was posed to the entire sample group – so those that had given birth in both public and private hospitals. That the number falls by 10 basis points, from 69 per cent to 59 percent, may imply there was a satisfaction shortfall with the public system.

Just 62 per cent of people who have delivered in the public system said the quality of care is equally as good in the public system as the private system. One-in-10 are happy not choosing their obstetrician, while 8 per cent don’t rate having a private room.

A chart showing what percentage of women gave birth is public and private hospitals.
Source: Finder Parenting Report 2021 of 1,033 parents of children under 12
A chart representing the different reasons women chose to give birth in a public hospital.
Source: Finder Parenting Report 2021 of 613 parents of children under 12 who indicated they would choose a public birth if they were to have another child.

“There is a stereotype that private health delivers better quality of care, but that’s not necessarily true. The medical professionals are equally as qualified as doctors in the private sector,” Martin said.

“Many parents have very positive experiences with the public system, so there’s no reason to assume you need private care to have a smooth pregnancy and birth.

“The decision also depends on your location. In some regions, public healthcare can be a bit hit-and-miss, while in others it’s almost identical to private care.”

Bear in mind too, that often in the case of complications, such as an early emergency C-section, mothers are taken to the emergency wards of public hospitals. Here, you may be able to get a private room though, if you elect to be treated as a private patient in the public hospital.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is the author of How to Get Mortgage-Free Like Me, available at www.nicolessmartmoney.com. Follow Nicole on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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