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How to Buy a Better Birth

The average cost of having a baby in the United States is $11,000 for people on private health insurance. But the price tag can vary by tens of thousands of dollars, depending on what hospital you go to and what doctor you see. And high-price medical care isn’t necessarily better: In the U.S., regardless of how much they or their insurance company pays, women experience unexpected problems related to pregnancy and childbirth at alarming rates.

The problem, of course, isn’t limited to maternity costs. Across the health-care system, wide differences in price and quality for the same procedures have led many economists and policymakers to conclude that the marketplace for medical care is broken. This week on Prognosis, we look at one health plan’s attempt to make it work better. It’s pushing hospitals to improve maternity care while keeping costs in check. These efforts bring to light a lot about what’s wrong with American health care, and one ambitious attempt to fix it.