A cesarean delivery is the third most popular medical procedure in U.S. Hospitals. In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 33 percent of the births in the U.S. were cesareans. The rate for induced pregnancies increased to 23 percent, which represented a doubling of the rate from the late 1980s.
What medical ill has struck the U.S. to cause this rapid increase? There is no single source discernable from the data, but it appears to be a combination of factors. One significant factor is timing. A cesarean allows the doctor or mother to schedule a specific time for the birth. Others include discomfort and potential health risks to the child.
The High Cost of Cesareans
Unfortunately, there is a financial incentive. The International Federation of Health Plans in London reports that a cesarean birth in the U.S. costs on average $24,300 or $9,100 more than a vaginal birth.
Does this mean all cesareans are performed so a doctor can go on vacation and double his or her earnings? No, many cesareans are medically necessary, such as in the case of pregnancy induced hypertension or toxemia, or when the child is breech. The problem is there are too many convenient circumstances that align to keep pushing up the delivery date for questionable or nonexistent medical reasons.
Humans have given birth for millions of years with little formal assistance. Yes, pregnancy always carries a risk, both to the mother and the child, but the species has managed “to be fruitful and multiply” absent a fully equipped operating room.
Incentives for Reducing C-Sections
The increasing frequency of the procedure and its cost has garnered the attention of one group outside the medical profession. Insurance companies, who cover the cost of most births in the U.S., have become interested in the growth of C-sections.
Business Week reported that Aetna and Cigna are beginning to work with doctors and hospitals to reduce the number of these procedures. They are adjusting the payments for cesareans and offering incentives to hospitals that reduce cesareans and inductions.
Impact of C-Sections on Babies
Another factor that is providing support for reducing the procedure is the growing body of research that indicates that there are potential long-term effects caused by delivering babies pre-term.
Babies born at 37 weeks have twice the risk of death as those born at 39 weeks, as well as other complications. Research also indicates that a child’s academic ability may be affected by a pre-term birth.