Cuddle your newborn? That’ll be $39.35, please

skin“Skin to skin” therapy? That was the line item charge that appeared on the hospital bill for a young couple, and the dad decided to check it out. What he found has blown up across the Internet.

It turns out that the Utah parents were charged $ 39.35 by their hospital just so the new mom and dad, just after the C-section delivery of their son, could have their baby placed between her neck and chest. There, proud pops took the requisite newborn pictures.

Only later, as part of $13,280.49 tab for their son’s delivery, did the couple see the skin to skin charge. They posted the bill on a popular online site, where it drew more than 11,000 comments.

The Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, reluctantly, defended its charge, saying that, in C-section deliveries, a second nurse must be brought in to the delivery area, however briefly, to help when babies are propped up on their moms. The dad in this case wasn’t upset, more amused, about this fee, which sounds like the ticky-tack charges fliers find themselves paying on cheap-o airlines.

But the incident provides more evidence on a topic I’ve written about recently: hospital bills are one of the most perplexing and infuriating aspects of health care these days, so muddled that Uncle Sam has conducted a national competition to see if designers can help. The New York Times reported on vast differences that doctors and hospitals charge parents for maternity care, procedures that generally are familiar and standard around the world.

Meantime , a colleague says his late, elderly mother agonized for months because, dutiful and detail-obsessed as she was, she couldn’t get a hospital to explain a $300 expense. After months of back and forth, the hospital finally scratched the mystery charge. The patient, it seems, knew she was having a cardiac episode, and, rather than disturbing neighbors, had taken a taxi to the hospital. At the door, she stopped a fellow in a white jacket, and asked him where the ER might be. He walked her to it, and as her cardiologist stood there, the staff had logged the navigating doctor in as a consulting. It pays to pore over those hospital bills−and don’t just accept the charges.

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