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2/29/2016 Goldin, Ajello sponsor bill to help pregnant women get insurance
STATE HOUSE – Legislation sponsored by Rep. Edith H. Ajello and Sen. Gayle L. Goldin would help uninsured pregnant women get insurance by allowing them to sign up for it outside of regular open enrollment periods.

The legislation applies to all private and nonprofit insurers, HMOs and insurance purchased on the state health insurance exchange. Under the bill, which is similar to one enacted in New York last year, pregnancy would become a “qualifying life event,” which means that uninsured women who become pregnant can enroll in private or employer-sponsored health insurance outside of the designated open enrollment periods. Currently, even on the state health care exchange, those who become pregnant outside the open enrollment period cannot enroll until the baby is born, because the only qualifying events that allow enrollment outside the open enrollment period are changes in family size such as divorce, marriage or the actual birth of a baby, not pregnancy.

The two Providence legislators introduced the bill because, although it applies to only a small number of Rhode Islanders at any time, the difference between having insurance and not makes an enormous difference to the health of newborns.

“Prenatal care and delivery can cost tens of thousands of dollars even for a healthy pregnancy. For most women who are uninsured, that’s a prohibitive cost, so if they get pregnant, they are very unlikely to get the care they need to have a safe pregnancy and a healthy baby. The result is babies who are at risk for serious health struggles and developmental delays and who have a much higher likelihood of infant mortality. It’s time we make sure that all pregnant women have access to high-quality, affordable prenatal care,” said Senator Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence).

The legislation (2016-H 7301, 2016-S 2052), which was heard by committees in the House and the Senate last week, is supported by a diverse coalition of organizations, including Rhode Island Kids Count, the March of Dimes, the Rhode Island Medical Society, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England and Rhode Island Right to Life.

“While prenatal care is expensive, the cost is dwarfed by the costs of the myriad of health and developmental issues that become more likely when pregnant women do not get prenatal care. Those costs weigh on the entire health care system, as well as school systems and public safety net programs. This is more than a women’s issue. We all bear some of the costs that are incurred when those needs aren’t met,” said Representative Ajello (D-Dist. 3, Providence). “Most of the insurance needs we have are for unfortunate events like illnesses and injuries. During pregnancy, something good is happening in the body, but skilled care is needed for the best possible outcome. We must make sure that all Rhode Island children receive the benefit of prenatal care.”

Rhode Island children born to women without insurance have considerably poorer health outcomes than those born to women with insurance. According to information provided by Rhode Island Kids Count, which testified in favor of the bill at hearings in both the House and the Senate this week, Rhode Island women without insurance are almost three times as likely to delay prenatal care as those with it (33 percent, compared with 12.3 percent). Uninsured women are about twice as likely to have preterm babies or those with a low birth weights, and the infant mortality rate among the uninsured is 19.1 per thousand births, compared to 6 per 1,000 for insured Rhode Islanders.

While representatives of the insurance industry have argued that the bill would result in expenses for them from women who wait until they are pregnant to get insurance, the sponsors say the up-front costs of providing prenatal care would be balanced out, if not outpaced, by the lower incidence of Rhode Island children with health problems caused by the lack of that care.

The federal Affordable Care Act required that all plans sold in individual and small group markets include maternity and newborn care, and also increased coverage rates for women of childbearing age. Between 2013 and 2014, the rate of Rhode Island women age 18 to 34 with insurance went from 83 percent to 90 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But while the situation has been improving, there were still 99 women in 2014 who gave birth without having insurance.

Cosponsors in the House include Rep. Arthur Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence), Rep. Charlene M. Lima (D-Dist. 14, Cranston, Providence), Rep. Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence) and Rep. Mary Duffy Messier (D-Dist. 62, Pawtucket). Senate cosponsors include Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), Sen. Adam J. Satchell (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick), Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence).

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923