On Thursday, health, consumer, women’s and medical groups cheered the signing of SB222 (Evans/Alquist) and AB210 (Hernandez) to require maternity care as a basic benefit in health plans.
Earlier that day, California Governor signed key bills that would require that maternity services are covered in all health plans. SB222 (Evans/Alquist) mandating maternity in the individual market, and AB210 (R. Hernandez) in the small group market, both starting in July 2012.
In signing these bills, Governor Brown is helping new mothers get the maternity coverage they need, which will provide a healthier start to their children, financial security for their families, savings for taxpayers, equity for women, and benefits for society into the future.
These health bills also continue California’s efforts to get ready for reform, not just implementing but improving upon the federal health law. While maternity will be a basic benefit in 2014 under the federal Affordable Care Act, these bills allow Californians to get the benefit earlier, and give our insurance market time to make the transition smoothly.
As part of the implementation of the federal law, the Institute of Medicine is issuing recommendations on essential benefits, but the signing of these bills shows that the federal law is already having a positive impact on what insurance covers.
In signing AB210 and SB222, Governor Brown can ensure Californians get the maternity coverage they need from their insurer, and not have to fall onto taxpayer-funded programs. The bills are stopping a sickening spiral downward that happens when there are not clear rules and oversight on insurers. While this has already been required in group and HMO plans, these bills will stop a dangerous drop in the number of health plans covering maternity in the individual market–from over 80% seven years ago to less than 15% today, with only one or two high-deductible plans even offering the coverage with maternity in some California counties.
Now women and families will have the security that if that get pregnant, they will get the care they and their baby will need.
Anthony Wright is Executive Director of Health Access California, a statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition of over 200 groups.