Out-of-pocket expenditure on health care by Australian mothers: Lessons for maternal universal health coverage from a long-established system

Emily J. Callander, Stephanie Topp, Haylee Fox, Lisa Corscadden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Background: Designing effective universal health care systems has challenges, including the use of patient co-payments and the role of the public and private systems. This study sought to quantify the total amount of out-of-pocket fees incurred by women who gave birth in private and public hospitals within Australia—a country with universal health coverage—and assess the impact that variation in birth type has on out-of-pocket fees. Methods: Data came from a linked administrative data set of all women who gave birth in the Australian state Queensland between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2015, plus their resultant children. Propensity score matching was used to create two similar cohorts of women who gave birth in private and public hospitals. Results: The mean total out-of-pocket fees for care from conception to the child's first birthday was $2813 (±2683 standard deviation) and $623 (±1202) for women who gave birth in private and public hospitals, respectively. Total fees were higher in both public and private hospitals for women who had a cesarean birth ($716 [±1419] and $3010 [±2988]) than for women who had a vaginal birth without instruments ($556 [±1044] and $2560 [±2284]). Discussion: Australia's strong policy incentives for women to take out private health insurance are leaving women with large out-of-pocket costs. This should hold important lessons for other countries implementing a universal health care system, to ensure that using a combination of public and private practitioners does not undermine the intention of universal care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-56
Number of pages8
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • birth intervention
  • out of pocket charges
  • universal care

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