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State Makes Push for Coverage for Pregnant Women

A bill to require health insurance plans to include maternity care is on the doorstep of the Senate floor, but it will have to resolve some fiscal questions before it moves forward.

“Very simply, when women do not have maternity services as part of their heath insurance, or have maternity services that are substandard they end up going on state programs, like AIM, the Access for Infants and Mothers program, which is a subset of Medi-Cal (the state’s Medicaid program),” said bill author Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate).

“As of 2009,” he said, “about 1,400 women were enrolled with policies that did not cover maternity services, so the rest of us had to pay for it.” An even greater number had policies with high deductibles or inadequate coverage, De La Torre said, and they used state programs, as well.

“If you do the math, the estimate is about $11,000 per birth. That comes out to $21 million — for women who already have insurance,” he said. “It’s a ridiculous thing, that we are all subsidizing substandard insurance.”

The bill, AB 1825, has passed the Assembly and was before the Senate Committee for Appropriations last week. It will stay there for awhile, because the bill was greeted with a budgetary analysis that said two staff positions would be needed to implement the law, at a total of roughly $100,000 a year.

To the bill’s supporters, this legislation is not only worth the cost, but will return that cost many times over.

“We actually think this bill will save money,” Beth McGovern, legislative director of the California Commission on the Status of Women, said. “Women who don’t have health insurance are likely to delay or forego prenatal care, which increases the likelihood of pregnancy complications, and complications at birth. And that often involves public cost to take care of both the patient and the child.”

Shannon Smith-Crowley, representing the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynocologists, added that there is another hidden cost that few have talked about. “One thing we don’t have in the analysis is that there are tremendous county costs for women who use the county clinics,” she said. “So I think there will be an offset in any expenses there. It just makes fiscal sense.”

Even if the bill didn’t save the state money, it would still be the right thing to do, De La Torre said. “In 2009, 19% of women had maternity services covered. That’s compared with 82% in 2003. There has been a drop from 82% to 19% in the past six years. That’s why this legislation is needed,” De La Torre said.

Appropriations committee chair Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) said when the state Legislature reconvenes at the start of August, the committee will take up AB 1825 again.

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