Each year, more than one million babies are born to mothers who did not receive adequate prenatal care.
These babies are three times more likely to be low birth weight and five times more likely to die as infants. This is a particular problem in Ohio, which ranks 45th in the nation when it comes to infant mortality. And maternal mortality rates are also three-to-four times higher for women who don’t receive prenatal care.
Because of the health law, we’ve made major strides in improving care for women—particularly by increasing access to maternity care. The Affordable Care Act requires private health insurance plans to include maternity coverage as an “Essential Health Benefit.”
But there is still more that we need to do to ensure all women have access to quality, timely maternity care.
Under current law, pregnancy is not considered a “qualifying life event” for health insurance offered in the marketplaces. That means that women who become pregnant outside of the narrow annual open enrollment period are unable to enroll in or change their healthcare plan to accommodate their needs, which may have changed due to their pregnancy.
Women don’t time their pregnancies around arbitrary insurance open-enrollment periods, and these deadlines should not keep Ohio mothers-to-be from getting the care they need.
Major life changes that are considered “qualifying life events” entitle Americans to a “special enrollment period” (SEP) in the insurance marketplaces. This allows people to change their coverage in accordance with these major events, like marriage or divorce or the birth of a child. However, pregnancy itself is not a qualifying event for a special enrollment period in the insurance marketplace.
This prevents some expecting mothers from gaining timely access to quality prenatal and maternity care—and we know that this care is essential to the well-being of both mothers and infants.
That’s why I introduced the Healthy Maternity and Obstetric Medicine – or Healthy MOM – Act, which would ensure that all women can access affordable health coverage during their pregnancies.
This bill would create a special enrollment period in the insurance marketplaces for pregnant women, allowing them to enroll in or change their health care plan when they become pregnant.
It would also establish a similar special enrollment period for the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, ensure access to comprehensive maternity care for dependents, and protect current income eligibility standards for pregnant women who are eligible for Medicaid.
It is absurd that only women whose pregnancies happen to begin during open enrollment can choose an insurance plan that fits their changing health care needs. We need to make sure every woman in Ohio has access to the care she needs for a healthy pregnancy.
Sherrod Brown represents Ohio in the Senate and is a guest columnist.
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