- Sweden has higher taxes than the US, but with that comes more standardized healthcare.
- In Sweden, pre- and postnatal care are covered by the government, as is your hospital stay.
- While my friend in Sweden paid only for hospital food, I paid over $13,000 for my care last year.
Scandinavian countries are known for world-class healthcare offerings – and higher taxes to pay for it. While Sweden does have a higher tax rate than the United States, its healthcare is much more standardized.
A friend from high school, Lindsay, who asked to not use her full name for privacy reasons, fell in love with Sweden and a Swedish man and moved to a small village in the country's west. She and I both gave birth during the pandemic, and our experiences were vastly different.
The level and cost of prenatal care differed
In Sweden, most prenatal care begins with a midwife, who acts as your conduit to your obstetrician.
Lindsay has one toddler son and a newborn son. She was pregnant in between having her sons, but her baby had severe genetic abnormalities, and the pregnancy was ended. Because of that, she was given more medical attention while pregnant with her second son. She had genetic testing done early for her third pregnancy, and it was paid for by the government.
In America, I am considered to be of advanced maternal age because I gave birth over age 35. I saw a perinatal specialist at the same time as my regular obstetrician because of this and had many tests and ultrasounds. I had genetic testing done at the urging of my doctor, but I had to pay the $600 fee with my deductible.
Sweden offers postnatal care
"For the two weeks after you give birth, you are given postnatal care under the care of the maternity ward. You can call them 24 hours a day, and you can go in at any time," Lindsay told me. There's also a national nurse's hotline you can call anytime.
Lindsay thought her C-section stitches were coming undone, so her midwife called an ambulance. The paramedics came and said she didn't look like she needed to go to the emergency room, but they booked her an appointment with a doctor the next day.
My postnatal care in the US consisted of one follow-up appointment with my doctor, six weeks after the birth, where we discussed postpartum anxiety and she checked on my C-section stitches. I also privately hired a doula to virtually advise me on caring for my daughter during the first 12 weeks.
My friend didn't have to pay for anything except hospital food
"The only thing you pay for is food, and it's about $10 a day," she said. Anything having to do with babies, children, or pre- or postnatal care is taken care of by the government. Private healthcare is available, but no one she knows has it.
Last year alone I racked up an eye-watering number of medical bills. My out-of-pocket costs would have been $146,000, but I had insurance through my employer. Between my deductibles and coinsurance, I still paid $13,500.
Swedish hospitals won't kick you out
Many hospitals in the US allow you to stay for two nights after a vaginal delivery and for four nights after a C-section. I did not feel ready to leave my baby in the NICU after four nights, but I had to leave.
While many Swedish women go home the same day they give birth, the hospital does not pressure you to leave until you feel emotionally and physically ready, Lindsay said.
We both had a lot of questions as we discussed the two healthcare models - and we were quite frankly shocked at the care and choices the other had.