May 9 (Reuters) - UnitedHealthcare Group said on Thursday it had launched a new program to cut maternity costs under which partner hospitals would be paid a fixed rate for care during and after pregnancy, rather than for every service rendered.
Rising healthcare costs in the United States have become a topic of heated national debate and maternity care has been earmarked as a big driver of high-cost claims for large employers and health insurers.
UnitedHealth's new bundled-payment program aims to reduce expenses by reimbursing hospitals or care providers with a single fee for a defined period of care that typically covers prenatal, delivery and postpartum services.
The system is likely to reduce financial incentives for hospitals to charge more for expensive procedures such as C-sections as they will no longer be able to make separate claims for each doctor's visit, treatment or test provided during and after pregnancy.
The largest U.S. health insurer's program comes as large companies such as General Electric Co make similar efforts to curb excessive spending on maternity care. GE has launched an effort to steer its employees to hospitals that are less likely to recommend unnecessary and costly interventions.
UnitedHealth's program has been deployed at two healthcare providers so far and the company plans to expand the effort to as many as 20 care provider groups by end of the year.
The health insurer has been working to reduce hospital admissions before delivery for pregnant women on its health plans and cut down on the number of non-medically required cesarean deliveries.
The company hopes $75 billion worth of claims it pays out annually will be tied to arrangements like bundled payment programs by end of 2020. (Reporting by Tamara Mathias in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)