Family & Medical Leave In the News

Brown signs Evans’ bills on maternity leave

Watch Sonoma County, October 6, 2011

By Ted Appel

Women in California are now guaranteed maternity care under three bills signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown said the bills ensure that mothers who decide to take maternity leave will no longer have to worry about losing their medical coverage. His office announced the bill signings Thursday.

SB222 by state Sen. Noreen Evans, a Democrat from Santa Rosa, requires health insurance companies to provide maternity coverage as part of their individual insurance plans, beginning next July 1. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation three times.

A second bill by Evans, SB299, ensures women in California do not lose their employer-provided health insurance coverage while on maternity leave .

The third bill, AB210 by Democratic Assemblyman Roger Hernandez of Baldwin Park, requires group health insurance policies to provide women with maternity coverage.

Many insurers exclude maternity services, which include post-childbirth care, in their basic plans. More than 200,000 women of childbearing age in California have health insurance plans that do not cover maternity care.

Evans, who chairs the Legislative Women’s Caucus, said her bill will save the state money by increasing maternity coverage options for women, reducing the burden on the state to provide maternity coverage.

“We applaud Governor Brown for making the rights of pregnant mothers a priority, by signing SB222,” Evans said in a statement. “SB222 ensures that women and/or mothers-to-be no longer need to go without maternity care or maternity health insurance coverage.”

While current law requires HMOs and health insurers to include maternity coverage in their group health insurance plans, individually-marketed plans are not subject to that requirement, Evans said. As a result, inexpensive, “maternity-free” insurance policies have proliferated on the insurance market.

The number of policies that include maternity coverage has dropped from 82 percent in 2004 to only 12 percent in 2010, leaving many California women priced out of the insurance market, Evans said. While maternity coverage is expected to be included in the new federal health care reform law in 2014, the federal law may not cover all policies.

“The signing of SB222 means California is investing in its future,” Shannon Smith-Crowley, of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement issued by Evans’ office. “We’ll be reducing the risk of premature births that are often the result of inadequate prenatal care and reducing the prevalence of low birth weight babies. Adequate healthcare for mothers and their babies now means a healthier California for the future.”

Evans said her second bill, SB299, will help prevent new mothers from having to pay out-of-pocket costs for their maternity health coverage or cut short their pregnancy leave because of financial pressures.

Under state law, women can take up to four months of unpaid maternity leave for a “pregnancy-related condition.” However, the law does not require employers to continue the employee’s group insurance coverage for the duration of that leave.

“Meaningful access to maternity leave – including keeping health insurance coverage – is essential to the health and economic well-being of working mothers and newborns,” Evans said in a statement. “By signing SB299, Governor Brown has saved many California working mothers from having to make the difficult of choice of whether to take maternity leave and lose their health coverage, or not take time off for maternity leave at all.”