Patients more likely to switch hospitals to give birth if they receive a surprise bill

Mothers who gave birth twice were more likely to switch to another hospital after the first birth if they received a surprise bill following care, according to a recent study published in Health Affairs. The study touches on the prevalence of surprise billing, which has grabbed headlines over sky-high medical bills patients receive for out-of-network services.

Researchers wanted to know how consumers reacted to surprise medical bills and investigate whether patients switch hospitals after receiving an out-of-network bill. They specifically looked at others who gave birth twice in nonemergency settings, as the healthcare services associated with childbirth are the most common elective hospital treatment for those with employer-sponsored health insurance.

Of the mothers in the study sample, 11 percent experienced a surprise medical bill with the first birth. The odds for switching hospitals for the second birth were 13 percent greater for those who received a surprise medical bill on the first birth compared to those who did not.

Those who did switch were also less likely to receive a surprise bill for the second birth compared to mothers who did not switch hospitals.

“Unlike emergency situations, in which patients may have little control over their choice of providers, patients seeking elective treatment may respond to the damaging financial experiences associated with surprise medical bills by switching providers,” lead author Benjamin Chartock, PhD student in the health care management department at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, et al. wrote.

Switching hospitals may be considered a good strategy for patients who don’t want to receive a second surprise or out-of-network bill, the authors concluded.

“The results highlight the harmful effects of surprise medical bills, as patients are more likely to switch from their preferred hospital—potentially incurring increased costs of travel and discontinuity of care—after the experience,” Chartock and colleagues wrote.