FEARS pregnant women may pressure doctors to perform caesareans and inductions early before the baby bonus is slashed to $3000 has prompted a warning to the nation's obstetricians.
Families Minister Jenny Macklin has written to The Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists urging doctors to counsel women on the risks of premature births. From July 1, 2013, the baby bonus will be slashed from $5000 to $3000 for second and subsequent births in a Budget savings measure.
The correspondence obtained by The Sunday Telegraph offers information to doctors on a range of government payments to help counsel women against scheduling caesareans to get extra cash. "I am conscious of the pressure that may be placed on obstetricians and other medical staff to reschedule elective procedures in the lead-up to the start date for the reduced rate of baby bonus," Ms Macklin writes. "I know that the government and your members share the concern that the health of mothers and babies remain the paramount consideration in scheduling such procedures. "I have included a fact sheet about those payments that your members may find useful when counseling mothers about the risks they may face in attempting to qualify for the higher rate of baby bonus."
With a normal pregnancy lasting about 40 weeks, the baby bonus changes will affect women who conceived second and subsequent children from mid-September to mid-October. But working women will still have access to the $10,000 paid maternity scheme. Premature C-sections can increase the risk of babies experiencing breathing difficulties according to some experts. When the baby bonus was increased in the past, economist and author of Parentonomics Joshua Gans found evidence that it did change birthing behaviour with women arranging C-sections to secure extra cash. "There was strong evidence that it impacted behaviour. And the evidence was all about planned birth timing, that is caesars and inductions, which comprise a significant share of all births," Mr Gans said.
"In 2004, 2006 and 2008 we were seeing increases in the baby bonus so there was an incentive to delay births until after July 1 of those years. "But $2000 is $2000 and so I suspect some people ... will end up having conversations with their doctors as to whether they can have their babies on June 30 rather than July 1. "Playing with timing decisions like this is bad implementation of economic policies. Put the change in slowly (so there is no particular date that is salient) or put it in immediately by surprise (so there is no chance to bring births forward). "No one knows what the risks of playing with birth timing really are."