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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Medical officials in South Korea said they’ve noticed a troubling trend of spouses — often those from other countries — avoiding prenatal care.

Part of it is cultural, said Maj. Robert Fowers, clinical chief of the 121st Combat Support Hospital’s obstetrics and gynecology department. But there also is a financial aspect that comes into play, he said.

Civilian spouses referred to off-base hospitals who don’t have Tricare Prime fall under a cost-sharing system that could mean they have to pay up to 20 percent of the bill before leaving the hospital.

That could leave a young servicemember trying to scrape together an extra $800 to $1,000 for a normal delivery if his wife is referred to a Korean hospital.

Some of those troops, Fowers said, believe if that they aren’t referred off base early during the prenatal care, they can just show up at the 121st on the day of labor and deliver the baby for free.

“That’s a very dangerous situation,” he said.

Officials say they’ll refer a woman to an off-base hospital if they believe she or her baby needs specialized care. The 121st, officials said, just doesn’t have the specialists to care for a woman with a heart condition or a fetus with identified problems.

If the woman hasn’t received prenatal care and is beyond the 28th week of pregnancy, Fowers’ staff cannot deliver the baby unless there is no other choice.

“There’s a big question mark hanging there,” he said. Those women, he said, should be at a larger medical facility with other specialists on hand in case of an emergency.

Prenatal care is crucial, he and others said.

“From the second you think you might be pregnant,” you should seek that care, added Lt. Col. Mark C. Wilhite, deputy commander for administration at the 121st.

The 121st sends prenatal care teams to the Daegu community on the southern portion of the peninsula and up to the 2nd Infantry Division area north of Seoul. Beginning early this year, they’ll also visit the Camp Humphreys area, because it’s easier to bring the medical staff there than it is to bring all the pregnant women to Seoul, Fowers said.

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