Public vs private hospitals: How much it costs to give birth in Australia

How much does it cost to give birth in Australia? The answer depends on a few things.
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Ronelle Richards
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July 7, 2023
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Public vs Private Hospitals: How Much It Costs to Give Birth in Australia | Kin Fertility
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You're pregnant! Congratulations! Now what? You have so much to get organised before your new bub arrives, and one of the decisions to make is where bub will be born. Almost 173,000 babies were born in Australian hospitals in 2020, or about 96% of all babies born that year [1].

What is the main difference between giving birth in a public hospital versus a private one? Does the maternity care change? What does it cost if you go use the public health system or use the private system?

Read on as we explore the cost of childbirth in Australia including a comparison between public and private hospitals and any out-of-pocket expenses.

How much does it cost to have a baby in Australia?

The cost of having a baby in a hospital ranges anywhere from $1,500 to $20,000 as we covered in our article on how much having a baby costs.

That's before we consider the costs along the way even if they're partially subsidised by medicare or private health insurance. So how much does it cost to give birth in Australia? The answer depends on a few things.

The first step in your pregnancy journey is to see your GP to start your antenatal care and decide which birthing option is best for you. This could be based on your medical history, age, or whether or not you have any existing health problems that might complicate childbirth.

Some of the typical options for maternity care in Australia include:

Public hospital

You will typically be cared for by a midwife and will give birth in a labour ward or birthing centre. Most of your antenatal care will be covered by Medicare, although they may be the occasional extra cost.

You have access to a doctor if there are complications. You may not get to see the same doctor or midwife throughout your antenatal appointments and it's unlikely you would have a private room while in hospital.

Private hospital

A private hospital means you will be cared for as a private patient by private midwives and an obstetrician. You will see the same obstetrician throughout and will be supported by your midwives and obstetrician for the birth.

If your private health fund covers pregnancy, most of your fees will be covered. It's important to check with your insurance provider if you're covered for pregnancy before you start trying to conceive, as most private health insurance providers have a 12-month waiting period that you must serve before being able to claim through your health fund [2].

Birthing centre

A birth centre can be a public or private option where expectant mothers will be cared for by a midwife or team of midwives right through their pregnancy and when they give birth.

This option is best suited for low-risk pregnancies and is often attached to a hospital.

Shared care

Shared care allows you to see your own GP and the hospital throughout your pregnancy. Hospital visits are mostly for antenatal appointments.

This option is primarily offered by public hospitals and public birthing centres, although can be utilised by private patients too. Shared care is ideal if you live in a rural or isolated area where there is not as easily accessible maternity care.

Home birth

If you have a low-risk pregnancy, you may choose to have your baby at home with a midwife. Homebirth Australia has verified private midwives, or you can attend a public home birth program through your local public hospital [3].

Does Medicare cover childbirth?

Medicare's universal health care system insurance scheme is funded by the Australian government. If eligible, Medicare will help cover the costs associated with childbirth. Medicare can help pay some or all of the costs of:

  • Routine ultrasounds
  • Blood tests
  • Immunisations (for you and when the baby arrives)
  • Pregnancy counselling (3 sessions)
  • Midwives and obstetricians' services in the public hospital system
  • Birthing classes
  • Specialist NICU care.

Some private midwives can offer a Medicare rebate that could bring the total cost down to about half after the Medicare scheduled fee (the amount the government sets as the cost for a medical service). Even with private health insurance, there may be some out-of-pocket costs in the form of a gap payment.

If you do not have a Medicare card, you will be liable for the costs of childbirth including hospital care.

Medicare Safety Net can help

Expectant parents should register themselves as a family through the Medicare Safety Net. This helps you get higher medicare rebates once you reach the threshold amount of out-of-pocket expenses.

Even if you have private health insurance, you can still be eligible for Medicare rebates if you use bulk-billing clinics for some of your pathology tests or scans.

Most private health insurance funds will also require you to register your baby as a member on your plan, even before your new baby arrives. It's worth checking with your health fund to be sure that your baby will be covered under your policy from birth in case they require immediate hospital care.

Private versus public hospitals

The out-of-pocket costs for choosing a private hospital (with a private midwife and/or private obstetrician) can vary depending on the amount your private health insurance covers.

It's worth checking with your health fund what aspects of antenatal care and birth-related costs they will cover and what out-of-pocket expenses you're likely to face.

Cost of going public: $0-$1500

The majority of the hospital fees and hospital stay is covered through the public system. This includes the actual birth including caesarean and all hospital visits during pregnancy.

You may need to pay for some ultrasounds, scans, blood tests and any medicine required, although Medicare rebates are available for most of these. Public is an affordable option for women, which is why almost 75% of women go through the public system.

Cost of going private (with health insurance): $3000-$5000

The costs for your delivery in a private hospital, according to HICA, could include:

  • Accommodation: $700-850 daily (expect to stay 2-5 days)
  • Delivery suite fee: $1,000 ($1,200 for caesarean)
  • Obstetrician fee (sometimes dubbed a pregnancy management fee): $2,500-3,400 [4].

This fee also doubles for multiple births like twins. There may be extra costs for pathology testing, pain relief, scans, medicine and specialist fees for anaesthetists or paediatricians. You may also need to pay a hospital excess fee depending on your health insurance plan.

The pregnancy management fee charged by your obstetrician can be as high as $5,000 depending on how much they choose to charge above the Medicare scheduled fee. Many private obstetricians don't list their fees publicly, however, you are rightfully allowed to ask prior to commencing treatment.

If you do not have private health insurance, you will need to foot the entire bill for your birth and hospital stay of which the total costs could be up to $20,000.

What about the cost of home birth?

There are some public hospitals that offer Medicare-funded homebirths, although these are typically in capital cities only [5].

Although the birth itself is covered, you may have additional costs of up to $1,500 to cover things like your Ambulance Victoria membership, pool hire, antenatal classes and towels or linens needed for your home birth [6].

The cost of a private homebirth can be between $5,000-8,000, including 2 midwives, your pregnancy care and your postnatal care.

There is a partial Medicare rebate available for your antenatal and postnatal appointments. If you choose to be supported by a doula, that will be an additional cost.

Care after childbirth

After giving birth, both you and the baby will need some support. Most women benefit greatly from postnatal care from midwives, the majority of which is rebated by Medicare.

Birth experiences are different for all women. Many women are in need of postpartum support. For yourself, or the new mum in your life, Kin's Postpartum Recovery Kit has a 6-step regime to help ease discomfort and heal faster after birth.

If you've had a C-section, Kin's C-Section Recovery Kit contains all the essentials to promote scar healing and a belly band to help support your abdominal muscles as they recover from pregnancy and birth.

The choice of whether to go public or private depends on your personal circumstances and care needs. The first port of call is to your GP who can offer independent professional advice and help decide what will be right for you.

how much does it cost to give birth in Australia? The answer depends on a few things.

Image credit: Getty Images

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