Health Advice



Their first baby came with medical debt. These parents won't have another

Noam N. Levey, KFF Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Heather Crivilare was a month from her due date when she was rushed to an operating room for an emergency cesarean section.

The first-time mother, a high school teacher in rural Illinois, had developed high blood pressure, a sometimes life-threatening condition in pregnancy that prompted doctors to hospitalize her. Then Crivilare’s blood pressure spiked, and the baby’s heart rate dropped. “It was terrifying,” Crivilare said.

She gave birth to a healthy daughter. What followed, though, was another ordeal: thousands of dollars in medical debt that sent Crivilare and her husband scrambling for nearly a year to keep collectors at bay.

The Crivilares would eventually get on nine payment plans as they juggled close to $5,000 in bills.

“It really felt like a full-time job some days,” Crivilare recalled. “Getting the baby down to sleep and then getting on the phone. I’d set up one payment plan, and then a new bill would come that afternoon. And I’d have to set up another one.”

Crivilare’s pregnancy may have been more dramatic than most. But for millions of new parents, medical debt is now as much a hallmark of having children as long nights and dirty diapers.


About 12% of the 100 million U.S. adults with health care debt attribute at least some of it to pregnancy or childbirth, according to a KFF poll.

These people are more likely to report they’ve had to take on extra work, change their living situation, or make other sacrifices.

Overall, women between 18 and 35 who have had a baby in the past year and a half are twice as likely to have medical debt as women of the same age who haven’t given birth recently, other KFF research conducted for this project found.

“You feel bad for the patient because you know that they want the best for their pregnancy,” said Eilean Attwood, a Rhode Island OB-GYN who said she routinely sees pregnant women anxious about going into debt.


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