What you need to know about pregnancy and health insurance

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Ellie Baker was delighted when the company she worked for decided to give staff some new benefits, including health insurance. She was 10 weeks pregnant with her first child and although she had decided to have the baby through the public system, the thought of having her own private room in a private hospital was massively appealing.

Like many others, Ellie didn't realise that health insurance comes with waiting periods, and while her health fund would be in place for subsequent babies, the birth of her first would not be covered.

"I was so disappointed. I had just assumed that once I had the policy I would be covered. The waiting period was 12 months, so by the time I was eligible for a private hospital for the birth, my baby was already five months old," says Ellie.

According to Dr Tim Ross, GP and National Medical Director at Bupa, Ellie's lack of knowledge is common. "Many people don't realise that you need to serve a 12-month waiting period before you can claim on hospital and medical costs for childbirth from your health insurer," he says.

The best option, according to Dr Ross, is to start thinking about health insurance early on. "If you'd like to have your baby as a private patient, avoid the risk of large out-of-pocket expenses by investigating your cover options well before conception," he advises.

It's not just waiting periods that couples need to consider - there are other factors to consider when thinking about health insurance. The benefits available for pregnancy and birth can vary from insurer to insurer. Dr Ross suggests doing some serious homework. "If you're looking for maximum value from your cover, comparing features between health insurers can really pay off," he says.

Many lower cost policies may only  provide restricted cover for obstetrics, and may only cover you as a private patient in a public hospital. This also means that the private room Ellie Baker longed for was less likely . "If a private room is important to you, look at whether this is included in your cover. Bupa members can benefit from a private room or $50 money back guarantee at Member's First hospitals," says Dr Ross.

Bupa's Growing Family hospital and extras package is an example of a policy that goes beyond cover for your pregnancy in hospital. Additional benefits include access to childbirth and parenting education classes before the birth at Member's First hospitals, and eight weeks of additional support after the baby is born to help with things like breastfeeding, sleeping and settling along with other worries or concerns you may have.

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Another factor that couples should consider is whether their insurance policy covers the baby after the birth. "You also want to make sure your policy covers your baby once they are born in case they require immediate hospital care –single policies won't cover your baby, so you'll need to shop around for a family cover," says Dr Ross.

There is so much information to consider which can be confusing and overwhelming for parents to be. Bupa has recently introduced an easy-to-use online tool that helps make  navigating the costs of having a baby easier to understand for prospective and new parents.

Named Bupa Beginnings, this tool provides a range of information from hospital costs to birthing options in clear terms. Visit bupa.com.au/bupabeginnings to get started.

While health insurance might not be the most exciting bit of your parenting journey, it is something that could make a big difference to your pregnancy and birth experience. And once you are clear about the fine print, you can get on with the fun part.  

This article brought to you by BUPA.