Can Families Get Insurance Coverage for Doula Services?

Clients often ask if I can provide them with a receipt that they can submit to insurance. Yes, I can, but  you will want a back-up plan. Doulas are not automatically covered by insurance although many people feel they should be. Choices in Childbirth (CiC) put out a big report on this topic earlier this year, Overdue! Insurance Coverage of Doula Care. Warning: it's complicated. In the report they say,  “Private insurance plans should include services of a trained doula as a covered service, and state legislatures should pass legislation mandating private insurance coverage of doula services, as they have done for a broad range of services." Even in states where there are programs and the insurance companies are supposed to reimburse (the only states being Oregon and Minnesota), it is not a slam-dunk, “At this time, few doulas, if any, have actually received reimbursement in either Oregon or Minnesota.”
So some people try to get covered with some effort. For this, the doula needs to provide an itemized receipt. The theory is that there are insurance companies that cover support services that fall into a second tier of health options such as therapeutic massage, gym memberships, breast pumps, lactation consultants and doulas, and typically the companies require the insured to provide paperwork and receipts. As an example of how to submit, DONA offers this DONA 3rd party reimbursement manual, but keep in mind it needs updating as it still includes CPT code, which I will go into below:  As doulas, we can provide a detailed receipt including our National Provider Identification(NPI#) and a description of services. As per describing services - I have not heard of the insurance companies being impressed with doulas describingrelaxation and pain-coping techniques or that doulas are preventivemedicine and statistically reduce the need for expensive surgeries and epidural anesthesia. The companies seem to better respond to tangible services they are familiar with, such as childbirth education and breastfeeding support.

Anecdotally, I have heard of a doulas being reimbursed when the provider signs a letter of medical necessity, including a medical code, indicating labor support increases the chances of the patient having an unmedicated birth with no pain management (I guess if it's doctor's orders then it is taken more seriously). What is this secret code you ask? Midwives and Doctors can offer CPT code 99499, since they are medical, but since doulas are not medical we cannot offer this same code. Per DONA, “As of this date, there is no national CPT (current procedural terminology) code for doulas.” So doulas cannot sign-off on this type of letter/receipt because doulas are not medical therefore we do not have a diagnosis code. Having a provider sign-off on our services is not realistic option for most of us since we are hired by the client and not by the provider, but there are offices in my home turf of northern NJ that have doulas on staff, such as Wombkeepers and Midwives of NJ.

So what are the options? Some clients have been able to use their Health Savings Account (HSA) accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts  (FSA), that can reimburse an individual or help one pay for eligible health care expenses not covered by one's health plan. Typically, the amount designated from your paycheck, that you put into your FSA, is taken out pre-tax. You will still need a receipt with NPI# and description of services for this purpose.

In closing... The insurance piece is going to take some time. Feel free to get involved by raising awareness via the CiC report or by contacting the rep at your doula organization who handles insurance questions. Personally, I don't recommend clients invest too much time with insurance. As for women who cannot afford a doula - recommend saving, offer a payment plan, request money for doula-savings at their baby shower/registry, ask a doula to barter services. Also, there are always student doula training and attending births, as they work towards their certification. To find these doulas just look on doulamatch and see how much they charge – rates often correlate with experience.

What is your experience with insurance reimbursement for doulas and what are creative ways you've heard of how people afford a doula? How do you respond when people ask if you provide insurance? I hope to read your response.

If you are interested to read the full report, visit Choices in Childbirth's Toolkit Overdue Medicaid and Private Insurance Coverage of Doula Care to Strengthen Maternal and Infant Health