When Johnny Harris's wife, Isabel, got pregnant, he decided to make a little video for Vox about how much giving birth in a hospital costs. He soon discovered, however, that the actual process of trying to find out those costs can be an arduous, multi-week process that doesn't even provide an accurate number when you do get a response. Basically, it's a super fun project to take on when you're also preparing for a new baby.
Harris started by trying to get general hospital cost estimates. But the information he could find varied so wildly—he found room charges ranging from $1,000 to $11,000—that it quickly became a dead end, because for most people whose names don't end in -ardashian, a difference of $10,000 isn't just chump change. So instead, Harris tried contacting the hospital his wife was going to give birth at. That's how he ended up in a multi-week maze of phone calls, voice messages, and dead-silent hold "music."
Finally, Harris was able to get someone from the hospital on the phone who estimated that, after insurance, the couple would owe the hospital $347 for a birth without complications. She couldn't, however, explain any of the details of that. In the end, the couple had a complication-free birth (hurray!), but they owed more than $800—certainly much less than the $16,000 that the hospital originally billed their insurance company, but $500 more than the estimate they received. $500 isn't an insignificant amount of money for many people.
Harris's takeaway: It would be really, really nice for consumers to be able to know how much they're going to pay before going to a hospital. Yup.