Family & Medical Leave In the News

California steps up for pregnant women

Daily Kos, September 11, 2011

By JP Massar

It is always nice to read about a victory for the little guy (or in this case, gal) in the context of health care.

After all health insurance premiums continue to rise. More people are uninsured or underinsured. Medicare and Medicaid are threatened. The PPACA, if it survives constitutional challenges and further Congressional attempts to repeal it, will not see its major component -- subsidies for coverage -- take effect for another twenty-eight months.

But as the California legislature wrapped up its session late into the night last week, it passed SB 299, a bill that would

guarantee the continuation of employer-provided health insurance coverage for women on pregnancy disability leave.
-- SB 299 Fact Sheet, via California State Senator Noreen Evans' Office

You might think that this would be a given: after all, what insane health care system would deny health insurance coverage to women who, on doctor's orders, need to take leave because of their pregnancy and after-birth situation?  You would, of course, think wrong. The United States (non-existent) health care system offers no such guarantees.

It is true that some people do already have this assurance, either through union contracts, the Family Medical Leave Act, or the California Family Rights Act. And some people can get coverage if they pay for it themselves via COBRA. 

But for others, employers are under no obligation to continue coverage, nor pay for it.  Nor do insurers have any obligation to continue that coverage if the employer drops it, even if the employee could pay for it.  For an estimated 50% of the workforce in California, health insurance coverage is not guaranteed when an employee takes such leave as allowed by law.

Due to these gaps in coverage, an estimated 50% of the workforce is not afforded the continued health insurance coverage guaranteed by the FMLA and CFRA. These gaps in coverage leave a large segment of the state's workforce vulnerable to the limited provisions under California's Pregnancy Disability Leave law. This inequitable coverage under the law penalizes women for taking leave.

SB 299 is not a cure-all.  Employees who don't have health insurance from their employer will not receive coverage if they don't already have it otherwise.  The bill does not apply to companies with five or fewer workers.  And of course it will only be the law in California. Forty-nine other states have some other provision along these lines, or none at all.

But it will help a lot of workers and is a big step towards remedying a serious problem:

Forced to pay out-of-pocket costs for health coverage, many women... delay or cut short their leave despite well-documented benefits to maternal and child health. Almost four-fifths of workers report being unable to take leave because they could not afford it.  Mothers and babies are losing their health insurance when they need it most.

Now it's up to Governor Brown to sign the legislation, and starting in January, 2012, this iniquity, one of so many still in existence, will pass into history.