Hand to Hold's Official Blog: Written by Parents for Parents

Affording the NICU: 6 Ways to Reduce the Cost



A few weeks into my daughter’s NICU stay, my husband discovered a mistake. We had failed to put M on our insurance. The process had changed, and we had missed the enrollment deadline. My husband said that he almost collapsed to the floor when he learned we would be responsible for weeks of NICU bills.

Fortunately, we discovered some safety nets do exist to help the parents of preemies. Here are some of the ways we found to reduce the cost of the NICU:

  1. SSI or Supplemental Security Income. Parents of preemies are often eligible for a supplemental income issued by the federal government for the length of a baby’s hospital stay. The amount you receive is based on a number of factors, including your income. At a minimum, it can offset some of the fringe expenses of a NICU stay, such as the gas it takes to commute back and forth to the hospital every day.
  1. Altering your insurance plan. Remember that most insurance plans consider a child’s birth to be a life-changing event. If you did not anticipate high hospital bills when choosing your health plan for the year, keep in mind that you might be able to upgrade your plan to one with a lower deductible and more extensive coverage. Contact your insurance company to ask about the options available to you.
  1. Secondary provider. Some families have secondary insurance providers that can pick up additional medical bills not covered by the primary provider. If you do, don’t forget to contact that secondary insurer to learn how it could assist you.
  1. Medicaid. Premature babies are often eligible for Medicaid. If you already have private insurance, you can accept Medicaid assistance as a secondary provider for your preemie. That benefit may be available throughout your child’s first year of life or longer. Had we not been able to solve our insurance problem, Medicaid could have assisted us in paying for the weeks we had no insurance coverage. Your hospital should have a social worker who can discuss the specific options available based on your child’s needs, your finances, and your state of residence. Also, keep in mind that your child may be covered under one state’s Medicaid while hospitalized and transition into another state’s system once released if you live in a different state from your NICU’s location.
  1. Free or low-cost housing. It is not uncommon for families to commute long distances to NICUs throughout lengthy hospitalizations. Some communities have free or reduced-rent housing or deals with local hotels to lessen the cost for families. Some NICUs even provide overnight rooms for parents, though our NICU did not. I knew preemie parents who lived in the Ronald McDonald house in our city so that they could be closer to their babies. Ask your NICU what options are available in your community. Your baby’s social worker might also have good advice.
  1. Ask for gas or restaurant gift cards or hotel room donations. Family members, friends, and community members want to help during NICU stays, but sometimes they aren’t sure how. There is nothing wrong with asking for what you need most while your baby is hospitalized, even if that is financial assistance. A church congregation could pool their resources and pay for months of gas cards for you, or a family friend who often travels could donate points toward a hotel room (Wyndham Rewards allows members to use their points to buy gift cards). I encourage anyone with a friend or family member with a baby in the NICU to think about some of these very practical gifts that could lessen the financial stress on preemie parents.

Visit the Hand to Hold resources for more information on reducing the cost of your NICU stay:

Do you have any tips for reducing the cost of a NICU stay? Please feel free to share them.

Summer Hill-Vinson About Summer Hill-Vinson

Summer (MS) delivered her son 14 weeks early in July 2010 as a result of preterm labor, and he was in the NICU for 3 months. She unexpectedly developed severe preeclampsia with her daughter, almost had her in another state while on vacation, and delivered her 11 weeks premature in January 2013. Both babies weighed 2.5 pounds, and they were in the same NICU for a combined 150 days. Summer, a journalism instructor, is writing a book about her family's NICU years.


  1. The hospital social worker was also able to help us with mileage reimbursement for drives in to the hospital through our state. State-to-state things may be different. Even though we lived relatively close to the hospital, the cost of gas added up. This reimbursement for milage saved our budget.

    In short, talk to your hospital social worker!!! I remember the social worker introducing herself to me a day after delivery. I thought “I’ll probably never see you again” and “why are you here? I didn’t do anything WRONG, I just delivered my baby early!” — My views on what social work is has changed. She became one of my biggest advocates and helped me when, despite all my years of education, I simply had no energy to understand the system. I realize now how social workers really truly help navigate a somewhat daunting system so that our kids can get what they need and us parents can have the resources to be the best parents possible for those kids.

  2. Laura,
    Thanks very much for your feedback. I had friends who were social workers, but I didn’t fully appreciate all the important things they do for people who need it the most until we were in the NICU.

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