Family & Medical Leave In the News

Making maternity rules count

California Healthline, November 28, 2011

By Eileen Appelbaum

Three new maternity coverage laws were passed this year in California, but that doesn't necessarily mean the people who need that coverage will get it, according to experts who gathered at a recent meeting in the Capitol Building.

"Just passing a new law we found isn't enough," according to Jenya Cassidy of the California Work and Family Coalition, which co-sponsored the event. "It's also really important that you need to empower people to use the rights they have."

According to Cassidy, many women of reproductive age who qualify for services and protections under California law aren't aware of them.

Earlier this year, the governor signed three maternity-related bills. AB 210 by Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina) and SB 222 by Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) require new insurance policies to provide maternity coverage.

"This was an issue in the individual market in particular," Beth McGovern of the California Commission on the Status of Women said. "This way, the cost of maternity care will be spread among all insureds."

The third bill signed by the governor — SB 299, also authored by Evans —  deals with maternity coverage offered by employers. "It's so that women can't lose their work-related coverage while on maternity leave," McGovern said.

Getting new laws into the books is just the starting point, according to Ruth Milkman, a researcher from City University of New York, who spoke at the Sacramento event. She said the family leave law has been in place since 2004, but a recent Field Poll found that most people still don't know the protection exists.

"According to the Field Poll, only 43% were aware of the law," Milkman said. "That's less than half of respondents. And Latinos and blacks were much less likely to know about it."

A disparity in awareness also existed among income levels and education, in addition to race and ethnicity, she said. People who most need these services aren't as aware that the services exist, Milkman said.

According to speaker Alina Salganicoff of the Kaiser Family Foundation, one in four women of reproductive age is uninsured in California. "So it's disproportionately low-income women," she said.

Community education is vitally important to let these women know they're eligible for services, Salganicoff said. Lower provider reimbursement rates, cost-sharing (which includes cost-sharing for hospitalization for childbirth) and the seven-visit-limit proposal all could affect low-income, reproductive-age women and their children, she said.

Even with implementation of the maternity rules and the Affordable Care Act, approximately 3.1 million reproductive-age women in California will still be uninsured in 2016, Salganicoff said.

"Most of those uninsured will be low-income, so having a robust safety net will be of critical importance," she said. "We still have more questions than answers. But these are really important issues — we're building a new system here, so there's lots of opportunity, and we also need to make sure we move carefully."