nicuHave you tried to put your unborn baby on your health insurance yet? Here's where we say good luck ... and don't hold your breath. The average health insurance company in America won't let you add a baby onto a family health plan until they actually have a Social Security number, and that can take as much as 12 weeks.

When I called my company during my pregnancy, an operator assured me "the baby will be covered under your insurance for awhile Mom." Apparently she was lying, or at least hedging her bets that I'd have an uneventful birth. Because a new look at premature birth in America by the Washington Post shows the medical bills for preemies are skyrocketing. And the people picking up the bills are often parents who have health insurance.

The companies consider the costs "not their problem." But before you write this off as "not your problem" if you don't have a preemie, here's another monkey wrench to throw in there: some of these same parents are turning to the only option they have. They're signing their "uninsured kids" up for Medicaid to help cover the crippling costs. In other words, health insurance companies have simultaneously found a way to screw pregnant women and screw the American public ... yet again.

Of all the stories of health care gone awry, this one stands out as a particular catch 22. You cannot seek health insurance for your child that will adequately cover care in a neonatal intensive care unit because the child is not yet born. Not to mention, until your child comes out, there's often no way of knowing they will be premature. Every mother's goal is to keep the child inside the womb as long as possible -- even those who are high risk.

Fixing this should be simple: require health insurance companies to cover care for premature babies that come out of a mother who was insured during her pregnancy, including out-of-network care that wouldn't normally apply to an adult woman (and therefore wouldn't traditionally be covered by her plan, but might be by the plan she would otherwise buy for her child). But the bigger issue is why it should be done.

Very simply? Because this isn't the issue of experimental care for an aged cancer patient that can be pulled into a Republican/Democrat health care debate. And yet boiling it all down to dollars and cents is what seems to work best for Americans these days. So here goes.

Babies, even those from well-to-do families, go on to cost taxpayers money over at least 18 years of early intervention and educational services. If, upon reaching 18, they can't live on their own, those costs could extend for the rest of their lives. By providing optimum care during those precarious days in the NICU, much of that can be avoided, thus protecting taxpayer dollars for 18 years or more.

Should this really be so hard?


Image via Dave Q/Flickr