New baby? Priceless. Doctors' fees? Incredible

Interested in home birth, hospital birth or private midwifery care? Questions or comments? Email Melissa Maimann or call 0400 418 448. Link

Forget for a moment that public hospitals can't cope with rising demand and elective surgery patients are lingering in pain. We are getting rorted by specialist doctors.

It's a system where the government pays, the patient pays and the doctor smiles before he or she slaps you with a monstrous bill.

I took notice last year when AAP's Los Angeles correspondent Peter Mitchell criticised the fees charged by health care providers in the US.

His wife gave birth to a baby boy and the bill come to over $A50,000, but it was completely covered by their $A418 monthly payments for US health insurance.

I have recently confronted a mirror experience as an American journalist living in Australia.

But I calculate that Peter paid less in out-of-pocket costs during his wife's pregnancy than my wife and I did in Sydney.

We initially decided on the public health system for the birth of our son until we caught sight of our local hospital's maternity ward: a demountable structure.

... The deal-breaker came when I asked what would be the medical response to an emergency birth.

Answer: a helicopter to transport my wife to a better-equipped facility.

Both of us had private health insurance, which we'd never used, so we thought we'd give it a go.

The out-of-pocket costs for the private hospital were estimated in advance at $500, which turned out to be accurate in the end.

We shopped around for a recommended obstetrician and settled on someone in the CBD who charged $4000, which we thought would be for the delivery, no matter the outcome.

Of that amount, we had to pay $1800 after Medicare.

We heard of prices for obstetricians as low as $3000 in Sydney's west and as high as $6400 on the north shore.

Our doctor also charged us $100 for every visit to his office, of which we received about $80 back on each bill from Medicare.

So far, we're in for about $2800, which we thought was about the maximum we wanted to pay in a country that rates its public health care system among the best in the world.

Well, things went a bit pear-shaped during labour and we ended up in the operating theatre ...

As often happens in private hospitals ...

If I had known what was to come I would have scrubbed up myself for the procedure.

The first anaesthetist charged $700 to stick a needle in my wife for the epidural - a 10-minute procedure.

The second anaesthetist, who was present during the surgery, charged an additional $1386 and did almost nothing.

During my wife's procedure, a young nurse present made it clear she was there to take photos and asked if I had a camera with me. I did.

The assisting surgeon charged another $420 and to top things off, our obstetrician sent us a bill for another $1539.

Last but certainly not least, a paediatrician making daily rounds at the hospital checked out our son on three separate occasions for less than five minutes a visit.

The cost for that? $700.

Incidentally, we pay $266 a month as a family for private health insurance ...

Melissa Maimann, Essential Birth Consulting 0400 418 448