Consumer Health First Applauds Legislation to Promote Healthy Pregnancies

With unanimous support, the Maryland General Assembly has passed HB 127/SB 36 - Health Benefit Plans - Special Enrollment for Pregnancy legislation that creates the opportunity for uninsured women who become pregnant to get health insurance through a special enrollment period. The bill now goes to Governor Hogan's desk for his signature. Maryland will then become just the third state, with New York and Connecticut, to deem pregnancy to be a "life-qualifying" event that allows women to gain health care coverage outside the six-week open enrollment period. This applies to those women who purchase private insurance through Maryland Health Connection.

Beth Sammis, Consumer Health First President said, “We find it hard to conceive of the fact that, until now, uninsured women could only get health insurance at the time they gave birth and not during the critical prenatal period. That made no sense, and, since 2016 when the legislation was first introduced, we have said so. Now, with the strong leadership of Delegate Ariana Kelly (D-16) and Senator Clarence Lam (D-12) we can ensure that Maryland supports a policy of healthy moms and healthy babies.

The Affordable Care Act established an annual open enrollment period during which individuals could purchase their own health insurance. To address those with life and/or income-changes at other times in the year, such as marriage, divorce, and adoption, "Special Enrollment Periods" were created. But, pregnancy was not included as a life-qualifying event for enrollment. The result was that some uninsured women could be precluded from getting the prenatal services they require for their own health and that of their babies, unless they are eligible for Medicaid.  

Under this new legislation, women must receive certification of their pregnancy from their health care provider. They then have 90 days to apply for coverage. Their coverage will be effective from the first day of the month in which they enroll. Timely and appropriate maternity care provides the promise of better outcomes for both mother and baby and is particularly important for women of color who are disproportionately impacted by pregnancy-related health disparities. 

Ms. Sammis said, "In New York, from February 2017 to October 2018, just over 400 pregnant women gained commercial health insurance under a similar law. So, while this will involve a relatively small number of women in Maryland, its impact will be substantial - in the health and well-being of individuals and reduced health care costs due to healthier pregnancies. That's a win-win for everyone."