Recent reports have shown that hospital charges for the most common procedures can vary widely. A new report, published by BMJ Open and funded by the National Institutes of Health, looks at two of the most common procedures and finds wide variation in the cost of giving birth, both through normal delivery and Cesarean section.

Researchers compared data from over 100,000 uncomplicated births in California hospitals and found the charges for a vaginal delivery ranged from $3,296 to $37,227, with a median cost of $14,620. For uncomplicated births by c-section, the cost ranged from $8,312 to $70,908, with $27,481 median. Researchers Renee Y. Hsia, Yaa Akosa Antwi and Ellerie Weber found the highest hospital charge was 11 times higher than the lowest hospital charge for a vaginal birth. They found similarly large ranges for c-sections: The highest hospital charge was 8.5 times that of the lowest.

The study found that insurers pay on average 37% of the charges.

So, why the difference? Cost variables such as hospital ownership, case mix, the percent of uninsured in the county and market competitiveness each had a “significant impact” on the charges.

Health Care
Sara Kehaulani Goo  is a former senior digital editor at Pew Research Center.