Assembly To Vote on Bill To Require Health Plans To Offer Maternity Benefits
The Assembly is expected this week to vote on a bill (SB 1555) that would require all health plans in the state to include maternity benefits, the Sacramento Bee reports (Rapaport, Sacramento Bee, 8/18). The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo), would ban health plans that exclude maternity benefits. The legislation was drafted in response to individual policies introduced last year by Blue Cross of California and Health Net that offer lower-cost health coverage without maternity benefits. Supporters of the bill include Kaiser Permanente, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and some reproductive health advocacy groups (California Healthline, 8/12).
The bill would affect an estimated 354,000 state residents who are insured through health plans not sponsored by their employers, as federal law prohibits health insurers from providing employer-sponsored plans without maternity benefits. According to the Los Angeles Times, the legislation "is the center of a battle that pits women's groups and consumer, labor and medical organizations against business and insurance lobbyists" (Lifsher, Los Angeles Times, 8/18).
The legislation has received "wide support" from Planned Parenthood and ACOG, groups that say excluding maternity benefits discriminates against women as "only women could be forced to pay for the expense of a pregnancy not covered by insurance," the Bee reports.
Kathy Kneer, president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California said, "While paying for this type of coverage, a woman could become pregnant and then have to pay tens of thousands of dollars in prenatal and delivery costs."
Speier said, "No woman should be put in the position of paying out of pocket for all her maternity bills after she already paid for health insurance" (Sacramento Bee, 8/18). She said, "If you're going to tailor health care to the individual, ... everybody's costs would skyrocket. The reason that health care works now is because we spread the risks over the entire population." Speier said that it is not possible for people to opt out of other gender-specific conditions such as prostate cancer or ovarian cancer (Los Angeles Times, 8/18).
Opponents of the legislation say that few women who are covered by health plans without maternity benefits become pregnant, and many more people who attempt to save money by purchasing coverage without maternity benefits would be uninsured if premiums were raised, the Bee reports.
Michael Shaw, assistant state director at the National Federation of Independent Business said, "The issue here is consumer choice. You have to ask if the added cost everybody would pay so some people can have maternity is worth it" (Sacramento Bee, 8/18).
Robert Scarlett, a Blue Cross lobbyist, said that the legislation would cause premiums for Blue Cross' least expensive preferred provider organization plan to increase 46% to $79.19 per month for people between ages 19 and 39.
The legislation is expected to go before the Assembly this week. If passed, the bill would require approval by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who has not taken a position on the measure. However, Scott Reid, the governor's insurance adviser, wrote in a letter to Speier that the measure "would limit choice in the marketplace and increase costs for consumers who desire a lower-cost insurance product that excludes maternity coverage" (Los Angeles Times, 8/18).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.