Lawmaker seeks to close pregnancy insurance loophole

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — If you’re uninsured and become pregnant outside of an open enrollment period, you won’t be able to obtain health insurance in Rhode Island. Now, one state lawmaker is working to change that.

In 2014, 99 mothers gave birth in Rhode Island without health insurance.

“The earlier a pregnant woman can get access to high-quality prenatal care, the better chance she has to have a healthy, well-developed baby,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant from Rhode Island Kids Count.

Rhode Island Kids Count is supporting legislation that would make pregnancy a “qualifying life event,” meaning soon-to-be moms who are uninsured would be able to sign up for health insurance outside of open enrollment periods. The nonprofit says it could improve children’s’ health and cut down on long-term medical costs.

Other common qualifying life events include marriage, divorce, and the birth of a baby.

“It’s a loophole that needs to be closed so that pregnant women can get early access to prenatal care,” said  Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence.

Ajello said the bill is modeled after similar legislation that was passed last year in New York.

“Not only is it the right thing to do,” she added. “We think it’s cost effective because if we can even prevent one pregnancy from requiring a stay at a neonatal intensive care unit after the baby is born, that saves so much money in the long run.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island argued against the bill in committee. Spokesperson Stacy Paterno pointed out that under the Affordable Care Act, all Rhode Islanders are already required by law to be insured.

In a statement, Paterno said “Blue Cross is enormously committed to maternal health and has a number of innovative programs to support pre-natal care.”

The legislation is currently being held for further study. Rep. Ajello said she’s optimistic that it will be passed this session.

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